Application of Maryland’s Doctrine of Contributory Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

by | Jul 10, 2017 | Firm News, General Info | 0 comments

Maryland follows the doctrine of contributory negligence. If a personal injury plaintiff’s negligence contributed in causing the accident, then the plaintiff is not entitled to any recovery.

The doctrine of contributory negligence was recently applied in the July 6, 2017 reported appellate opinion in Wooldridge v. Abrishami. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the verdict of a Montgomery County jury that the plaintiff, who had had been struck in a crosswalk by a left turning vehicle, was contributory negligent and, therefore, was not entitled to receive any compensation.

In her personal injury lawsuit, Ms. Woolridge alleged that she was crossing the street in a crosswalk and that she was struck by Defendant Abrishami’s vehicle as it made a left turn. The pedestrian claimed that she did not see the vehicle prior to being struck.

The driver of the vehicle claimed that she did not see the pedestrian prior to striking her.    The driver asserted the affirmative defense of contributory negligence in her Answer.

The pedestrian testified that she had an unobstructed view of the intersection, that she stepped off the curb into the crosswalk without observing any vehicles, but she didn’t recall how many steps she had taken prior to being struck. A police officer testified that the driver had completed about 98% of her left turn prior to the collision and the vehicle was almost parallel to the street.

The Appellate Court concluded that it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that the pedestrian was contributory negligent in causing the collision, because the pedestrian was not paying adequate attention while crossing the street.

The duty of a pedestrian was explained in Merrified v. C. Hoffberg Co., 147 Md. 134, 142 (1925) as follows: “A wayfarer is not at liberty to close his eyes in crossing a city street. His duty is to use his eyes, and thus protect himself from danger. The law does not say how often he must look, or precisely how far, or when or from where. If, for example, he looks as he starts to cross, and the way seems clear, he is not bound as a matter of law to look again. The law does not even say that, because he sees a wagon approaching, he must stop [until] it has passed. He may go forward unless it is close upon him; and whether he is negligent in going forward, will be a question for the jury.”

Practice Pointer: A crosswalk is not a safe harbor for pedestrians.  A pedestrian has a duty to look for approaching vehicles, judge the speed and distance of the approaching vehicle, and take measures to avoid being hit.

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