November 25, 2014

D.C.'s Contributory Negligence Law Upheld (Again) … Just Like in Maryland

If you're the victim of a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident in Maryland, don't assume the legal odds are stacked in your favor. Like our neighbors in Washington, D.C., Maryland has something called a contributory negligence law. This means if you are found to be even one percent responsible for the accident -- your insurance claim may be denied and you may be barred from collecting damages or compensation for your injuries.

Contributory negligence is the primary reason you need an experienced accident injury lawyer if you're hurt in a motor vehicle crash in Maryland.

The law sounds unfair. And victims' rights advocates would agree it is unfair. However, contributory negligence laws here in Maryland and Washington, D.C. have yet to be overturned.

Like in Maryland, D.C. public safety groups have pushed for legislation to change the district's contributory negligence law to comparative negligence. Comparative negligence determines how the responsibility for an accident would be shared between the parties involved in a crash.

Unfortunately, a bill proposed by a D.C. Council panel to end contributory negligence for bikers and pedestrians was just killed in committee. The bill would have made it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to collect damages when they are injured in a motor vehicle accident. The contributory negligence standard governs tort claims in the District.

As we know from our experience as accident injury attorneys in Baltimore County, Maryland, bicyclists and pedestrians can suffer catastrophic and fatal injuries when they're involved in a motor vehicle crash.

However that vulnerability was not enough to move lawmakers in D.C. to exempt bikers and pedestrians from the law. Insurance companies object to changing the contributory negligence law, which is no surprise to us. This was D.C.'s third attempt at changing the law, and failing.

Though Maryland's own contributory negligence law is archaic, it still stands. Like our neighbors in D.C., Maryland has also seen bills targeting contributory negligence considered by state lawmakers, only to die a quiet death. (See link to related blog article, below.)

Maryland is one of only four states and the District of Columbia to keep a contributory negligence law on its books. The other states are Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Victims' rights advocates describe these contributory negligence laws as "harsh." That's why other states have overturned them.

But until our state lawmakers agree and change the law -- contributory negligence is, indeed, the law of the land in Maryland. That's why we fight hard for our clients. Don't attempt to go it alone if you're injured in a traffic accident…the law is not in your favor.

Related Baltimore Accident Injury Attorney article:
Maryland Personal Injury Law : Court Upholds Contributory Negligence Law in Soccer Player Accident Case (July 2013)

Sources:

D.C. Council proposal to protect bicyclists, pedestrians dies in committee
WashingtonPost.com Nov. 25, 2014

Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence
Justia.com

July 11, 2013

Maryland Personal Injury Law : Court Upholds Contributory Negligence Law in Soccer Player Accident Case

Last fall, we reported on a Maryland case involving a seriously injured soccer coach -- a case that called into question the state's contributory negligence law. As Baltimore, Maryland Personal Injury lawyers, we're very familiar with the nuances of this law and how it can affect our clients' cases.

The gist of the law is this: If you are injured or killed in an accident in Maryland -- and you're found to be even 1 percent at fault -- your insurance claim may be denied and you may lose your accident injury case in court. That means you will not collect any compensation. (The Maryland Contributory Negligence Law applies to nearly all types of accidental injury and death cases, including motor vehicle crashes.)

Now, the Maryland High Court has upheld the contributory negligence law as it relates to the story of the injured soccer coach, first reported late last year. According to newspaper reports, Kyle Coleman, age 20, a part-time soccer coach, sustained serious head and facial injuries when a bar from a collapsed soccer goal fell on him. Coleman sued the Soccer Association of Columbia, Md., which was running the practice when he was injured.

Attorneys for the defendant argued that because the plaintiff was swinging from the goal and had allegedly smoked marijuana earlier in the day, he was not eligible for compensation.

The Baltimore Sun reported last Sept. that "…a Howard County jury found the association was at fault in Coleman's injury because it did not properly secure the goal. But because the jury also found that Coleman was at least partly responsible for the accident, he did not receive any payout." An attorney representing Coleman and chairman of the Maryland Association for Justice Political Action Committee reportedly called contributory negligence unfair.

The case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals. The Baltimore Sun reported this week that the high court upheld Maryland's longstanding contributory negligence law. This is no doubt a huge disappointment for Coleman and his family, along with victims' rights advocates in Maryland who believe the time has come for the law to change. The Sun reports:

"Judge John C. Eldridge, writing for the 5-2 majority, said the question whether to change to another model is one for the state legislature."

Maryland adopted a contributory negligence law in 1847 -- a type of law that has been decried by victims' rights advocates as too harsh. Since then, 46 states have changed to "comparative" laws that allow judges to reduce accident victims' compensatory damages proportionately, rather than flat-out denying claims and dismissing cases.

However The Daily Record reported that, "Now that Maryland’s highest court has put the ball squarely in its court, the General Assembly is very likely to revisit the 166-year-old doctrine of contributory negligence in its next session, Sen. Brian E. Frosh said."

Until, if and when Maryland's archaic contributory negligence law is re-examined and revised -- or tossed out -- this case is a harsh reminder that in Maryland, the odds may be stacked against the victim. Contact an experienced Maryland accident injury attorney to navigate the legal waters on your behalf. See links before for more on this story.

Related Maryland Accident Injury Attorney article:

Lawsuits and Contributory Negligence : Soccer Injury Lawsuit Could Bring Change for Accident Victims (Nov. 2012)

Sources:

Maryland contributory negligence law upheld by high court
The Baltimore Sun July 9, 2013

Top court: Decision on contributory negligence must be legislature’s
The Daily Record July 9, 2013

Related Web Resource:

James Coleman vs. Soccer Association of Columbia (PDF)
In the Maryland Court of Appeals : Filed July 9, 2013