If you’ve been injured in an accident, who was at fault? Sometimes, more than one party shares fault for an accident. What happens if you’re partly to blame for your injury?
Under a legal doctrine known as “contributory negligence,” you could be barred from recovering damages if you contributed in any way to causing an accident. This is true even if you contributed only slightly and someone else’s actions served as the primary cause.
Maryland is one of a handful of states with contributory negligence still used to guide personal injury cases.
What Is Contributory Negligence?
When fault is shared in a personal injury case, states follow principles of either contributory or comparative negligence. If you share blame for an accident that injured you, the Maryland courts will use the rule known as contributory negligence to stop you from collecting damages from any other party who also may be at fault.
Contributory negligence relates to your behavior that creates an unreasonable risk to you. In other words, individuals have a legal duty to act reasonably to preserve their own safety. If you act unreasonably and suffer physical harm, you may be held partially or completely responsible for your injury even though someone else also played a role.
For example, if you cross a street without looking both ways — and while ignoring a traffic signal — and you’re hit by a car, you likely will be liable for contributory negligence. In such a situation, you could have difficulty recovering compensation for your injuries.
If you file a negligence claim after suffering an injury, the other party may file a counterclaim against you for contributory negligence. Such a claim asserts that injuries occurred at least in part due to actions of the injured person. If a defendant can prove that you contributed to your injuries, you might recover reduced damages or no damages.
Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence
Maryland, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia are the only states — along with Washington, D.C. — that still use the concept of contributory negligence rather than comparative negligence in personal injury cases. In general, contributory negligence holds that if an injured person bears more than 1 percent of the responsibility for an accident, no compensation can be claimed from the other party.
Contributory negligence applies in many types of personal injury cases that can result in civil litigation, including auto accidents, medical malpractice, workplace injuries, and slip-and-fall incidents. Most people don’t know about the rule of contributory negligence until they’ve suffered an injury.
Comparative negligence, on the other hand, allocates compensation to an accident victim based on the individual’s share of the blame. For example, if a plaintiff and defendant in a personal injury case both bear some responsibility, a jury might find the plaintiff to be 20 percent at fault, while the defendant is 80 percent at fault. Each party pays their share of the other party’s damages according to the fault percentage.
States that use the comparative negligence standard may follow one of two approaches. Using pure comparative negligence, the damages awarded to a personal injury case plaintiff are reduced to reflect the individual’s fault in the injury. For example, a plaintiff who is awarded $20,000 and found to be 30 percent at fault would receive $14,000, or 70 percent of the total damages.
In modified comparative negligence, the most common approach, the plaintiff recovers nothing if he or she is equally or more responsible for the injury. To recover damages, a plaintiff must be at fault by no more than 50 percent.
Maryland’s History With Contributory Negligence
The state of Maryland began using contributory negligence as the result of an 1847 case known as Irwin v. Sprigg. Later, the state adjusted the concept to make exceptions for children under the age of 5 and defendants who could have exercised more care.
In 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld contributory negligence in Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia. During a team soccer practice, player James Kyle Coleman jumped and grabbed a goal crossbar, which was not attached to the ground. Coleman fell on his back, and the crossbar fell on his face, seriously injuring him.
Coleman sued the soccer association, which argued that the plaintiff engaged in contributory negligence in the accident. The jury found that both parties shared negligence; under Maryland’s doctrine of contributory negligence, Coleman could not recover damages. The appeals court upheld the decision and declined to change the contributory negligence standard in the state.
The verdict allows defendants in personal injury cases, along with insurance companies, to continue to argue that plaintiffs contributed to their injuries and should receive no compensation.
Succeeding in a Maryland Car Accident Claim
Sustaining injuries in an accident can change your life forever, and the financial consequences can be devastating. If you or a loved one have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, you need assistance from an experienced personal injury attorney.
With 50 years of combined experience in all types of personal injury lawsuits, DuBoff & Associates, Chartered, represents clients throughout Maryland and Washington. D.C. To schedule a consultation, please contact us.