Maryland declines to abandon the doctrine of contributory negligence

by | Jul 9, 2013 | General Info | 0 comments

On July 9, 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued its opinion on whether the common law doctrine of contributory negligence should be judicially abrogated and the doctrine of comparative negligence adopted in its place.  For the second time in 30-years, the Court of Appeals declined to abrogate contributory negligence as a defense in Maryland.  Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia __ Md. ___ (2013).

Maryland is one of only a handful of States that  recognize contributory negligence as a complete defense.   As the Court of Appeal acknowledged, the application of the doctrine of contributory negligence is harsh: “It is also pointed out that contributory negligence works an inherent unfairness by barring plaintiffs from any recovery, even when it is proven, in a particular case, that a defendant’s negligence was primarily responsible for the act or omission which resulted in a plaintiff’s injuries. It is said that contributory negligence provides harsh justice to those who may have acted negligently, in minor ways, to contribute to their injuries, and that it absolves those defendants from liability who can find any minor negligence in the plaintiffs’ behavior”.

Comparative fault, in contrast, apportions fault between the parties.   A plaintiff’s contributory negligence does not bar recovery, but rather reduces proportionately his or her damages in relation to his or her degree of fault.  For example, if a party is 35% at fault for causing an accident, then his or her damages would be automatically reduced by 35%.

Recommendation: Marylanders who are dissatisfied with the doctrine of contributory negligence should urge their elected representatives in the General Assembly to pass legislation to abolish this outdated defense.




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