Contributory Negligence in Maryland-Will Comparative Fault Be Adopted?
Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on Sep 08, 2012 in Community News
Many of our clients are shocked when we tell them that the law in Maryland negligence cases is that if a person is even 1% at fault in an accident then they are barred from recovery. This is because Maryland is one of only four states in the entire country that has retained the common law pure contributory negligence standard. The other 3 states are Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Alabama. Contributory negligence can lead to extremely harsh and unfair results, especially when it comes to children and the mentally ill. I feel strongly that contributory negligence is a harsh and antiquated doctrine that needs to be changed in Maryland. By contrast, in comparative negligence jurisdictions if a person is say 5 % at fault, then the jury verdict would simply be reduced by 5%. This seems to be a much more fair way of addressing negligence claims.
On Monday September 10, 2012 the Md. Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in a case that urges the court to adopt comparative negligence. The case is Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, and involves a person who was injured by a soccer goal that collapsed on him when he grabbed onto the crossbar. The case was tried by my friend and colleague Bruce Plaxen. The jury found that the defendant Soccer Association was negligent for failing to maintain the goal, but that Mr. Coleman was also contributory negligent. Therefore, although Mr. Coleman was seriously injured, no damages were awarded to Mr. Coleman.
I have seen particularly harsh results in negligence cases based on premises liability such as slip and fall accidents. This is because in these cases, the defendant will always argue that our client was at least 1% at fault for failing to watch where they are going. If Maryland adopts comparative negligence it will encourage landlords and businesses to be more careful and avoid dangerous conditions that cause injuries.
The specific issue that the Court of Appeals will address is "Should this Court ameliorate or repudiate the doctrine of contributory negligence & replace it with a comparative negligence regime?" You can watch a webcast of the oral arguments at 10:00 am on Monday (there are 3 cases scheduled so it may not be starting right at 10 am).