Is Maryland a Comparative Negligence State?

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Motorists who end up injured in a crash sometimes ask is Maryland a comparative negligence state? Although this sounds like a complicated lawyer term, people who have lived in states like Florida or Pennsylvania may be familiar with it.

Unfortunately, Maryland is not a comparative negligence state. It’s a contributory negligence state. This is potentially bad news for accident victims because insurance companies find it easier to reject their claims in Maryland. If an insurance company, or its legal team, can make a case you were even slightly responsible for your accident, you could end up with nothing. That’s tough on an accident victim. Take the situation of a driver who is hit by another car whose driver veers across a centerline. It seems like a straightforward case of the other driver being at fault. But what if the insurance company lawyers found out you were driving 5 mph over the posted speed limit on the curve? They may argue you should  have slowed down and avoided the crash had you been driving below the speed limit. You were partially at fault and are not entitled to compensation. 

These arguments are not straightforward. An experienced Baltimore car accident lawyer can dispute claims made by the insurance company that you were partially to blame and fight on your behalf. The situation for victims is different in comparative negligence states. Although they are more likely to recover money after an accident, they may receive less if they shared the blame. Maryland personal injury attorney Randolph Rice addresses the question ‘is Maryland a comparative negligence state?’

How Does Comparative Negligence Work?

Most states follow comparative negligence rules in awarding damages after a car crash, a slip and fall claim or another personal injury case. These states are also described as no-fault states.

Comparative negligence allows parties to claim compensation when the blame for an accident is split. For example, a driver may come to a full stop at a stop sign. She sees a car in the distance but thinks she has time to merge onto a major highway. Unfortunately, she misjudges the speed of the car approaching her. The driver is unable to stop and T-bones her car causing an injury. The driver of the car that hit her was doing 30 mph over the speed limit and he did not have time to brake. In these cases may need a Baltimore T-Bone Accident Lawyer

In this scenario, the law may judge the speeding driver was 70 percent at fault for the crash but the driver who merged onto the highway made an error in pulling out so is 30 percent to blame. 

If the female driver suffered injuries valued at $100,000 and was 30 percent to blame, she would recover about $70,000. In this example, the speeding driver could claim about $30,000 for his injuries. This is an over-simplification. Very complicated formulas are used to apportion blame and compensation in comparative negligence states.

However, not all states follow the pure comparative negligence model. The speeding driver would only be entitled to compensation in about 30 percent of states. The majority of states follow a modified comparative negligence or fault model. States including Utah and Colorado bar a party that’s 50 percent or more to blame for a wreck from making a recovery.

Comparative negligence is certainly a fairer system than contributory negligence. As anyone who has been in a car accident will know, the blame is not always cut and dry. Drivers often recall how they saw another vehicle heading toward them and froze or were too slow to take evasive actions. Drivers often become distracted and fail to drive defensively. Although we associate distracted driving with illegal acts like texting at the wheel, the leading form of distraction is being lost in our thoughts while driving or rubbernecking at something else happening on the highway. 

Why Isn’t Maryland a Comparative Negligence State?

The contributory negligence rule is followed in Maryland and just four other places – North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, and the District of Columbia. The idea that you aren’t entitled to any money if you share blame for the accident that injured you is rooted in the common law, developed from cases in England. In an 1809 case from England, the courts denied money to a man who was injured on his horse when he hit a barrier in the road put up by a man repairing his home. The judges ruled a person riding with reasonable and ordinary care could have seen and avoided the obstruction in the road.

Contributory negligence was also adopted in the United States to protect big business interests from worker claims in the days before workers’ compensation existed. A majority of states have passed laws that help car accident victims recover if they were partially at fault. Maryland’s standard of contributory negligence was initially adopted in the 19th century when courts were concerned about juries awarding sums large enough to workers who suffered injuries in newly developing industries. In recent years, 45 states have reformed their laws, adopting comparative negligence standards.

Maryland’s law can be very harsh on people who end up seriously injured, mainly due to the fault of another person. It also applies to wrongful death claims. However, the onus is on the at-fault party to prove you contributed to your injuries. This means your Maryland personal injury attorney can dispute a claim you were even 1 percent at fault for an accident that injured you. However, a Maryland wrongful death attorney may be able to help you. 

How Does Contributory Negligence Affect Accident Victims in Maryland?

The contributory negligence doctrine is controversial in Maryland. The justices in the Court of Appeals of Maryland admitted it is unpopular but declined to change it in the 2013 hearing of Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia. They decided 5-2 to retain the 166-year-old rule that prevents people who contributed to their injuries from collecting damages. 

James Coleman sued the Soccer Association of Columbia. He suffered injuries when a metal goal collapsed when he playfully grabbed the crossbar three years earlier at Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton. During soccer practice, Coleman tried to retrieve a ball from the soccer goals and jumped up to hang from the crossbar. The goal was  not anchored to the ground and fell on top of him. Coleman suffered serious facial injuries. He had three metal plates being inserted into his face.

A Howard County Circuit Court jury found the association to be negligent for failing to maintain the metal goal. However, the jury did not award damages because it found that Coleman was also negligent.

Judge John C. Eldridge said the court was reluctant to change Maryland’s longstanding contributory negligence rule in the absence of legislation from the General Assembly.

The case shows the detrimental effect of Maryland’s contributory negligence rule on accident victims. If Maryland was a comparative negligence state, Coleman would be entitled to compensation. He would have been entitled to compensation in Maryland if the goalpost had fallen when Coleman came Ito contact with it as a part of the soccer game. However, the jury found he contributed to his own injury.

How Does Contributory Negligence Work in the Maryland Courts?

If someone who suffers an injury, files a personal injury lawsuit, and the case makes it to a trial, the jury will be asked to make a finding of fault. The jury may, for instance, find the driver who mowed down a pedestrian on a crosswalk in Baltimore caused the accident. However, the jury will also consider if the victim contributed to his or her injuries. If the pedestrian was texting and didn’t see the car that hit him, the jury may decide he was more than 1 percent to blame for his injuries and bar him from recovering money. In situations like this a pedestrian may need a Maryland pedestrian accident lawyer

At the Rice, Murtha & Psoras, our Baltimore personal injury lawyer can field all of your questions about you accident. Talk to a Maryland personal injury professional as soon as possible. Insurance companies will often try to blame you for your injuries to save their clients money. A lawyer can safeguard you from insurance company traps and take on the case on your behalf. Please talk to Randolph Rice to get a free consultation or call (410) 431-0911.


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