Maryland’s highest court recently decided a personal injury case, and they refused the opportunity to do away with contributory negligence, a defense often used in automobile accident cases and other personal injury claims. Therefore, if you get into a car accident in Maryland, you will still have to worry about the issue of contributory negligence preventing your recovery for your injury.
Contributory negligence (or contrib, as we lawyers call it) is a defense to a personal injury case which is only available in Maryland and 6 other states (including Virginia, by the way). Under the legal doctrine of contrib, if you are partially at fault for your own accident – even 1% at fault – you cannot make a personal claim at all. It is a complete bar to a personal injury claim in Maryland.
In the recent case of Coleman v Soccer Association of Columbia, the Court was asked to do away with contrib in favor of something called “comparative negligence.” That means the Judge or jury would weigh each sides liability for an accident and assign a percentage of fault to each side. Your award would be reduced by the amount you were at fault. If you were only 1% at fault for the accident, then you would only get 99% of the total damages.
Interestingly, one of the Judges wrote a scathing dissent arguing for abolishment of contrib. He lost that argument, but his dissent is what made the case newsworthy (at least to lawyers).