Baltimore auto accident attorney

What is Contributory Negligence, and Why Does Maryland Use It?

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in Maryland, you’re likely wondering if you have legal recourse beyond an insurance claim. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, and in Maryland, receiving compensation for your injuries might be more difficult than you would think.

Why Do Laws Differ From State to State?

Each state has its own rules for when someone can sue, and how much they can receive for a car accident. For example, states that mandate “no-fault” insurance policies seriously limit the circumstances in which a person may file a civil lawsuit against an at-fault driver.

The tenth amendment of the Constitution allows states to set their own laws, as long as they abide by the basic tenets of the Constitution. As a result, each state has a different tort system or series of circumstances in which one may sue.

Understanding the Role of Negligence in Car Accidents

In order to file a civil suit against someone, they must have committed negligence. With a car accident, the other driver may have committed negligence if they are found guilty of a traffic violation. Examples of negligence while driving may include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Driving under the influence
  • Speeding
  • Eating or drinking while driving
  • Failing to yield
  • Failure to obey a traffic signal
  • Tailgating
  • Reckless driving

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most common reasons for negligence in a car accident. In order to prove negligence in an injury lawsuit, a plaintiff (accident victim) must prove the following:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. We must all exercise reasonable care around one another on the road.
  • The driver breached that duty of care (was speeding, failed to yield, drove drunk, etc.)
  • The breach of duty directly led to injury
  • Those injuries led to specific damages, such as lost wages, medical bills, or undue hardship.

What are the Different Types of Negligence?

When determining a settlement amount, the states will use one of two types of negligence. Most states have what’s called a “comparative negligence” rule, which states that a defendant may be entitled to compensation, minus their degree of fault.

Say you were injured in an accident and incurred $100,000 in medical bills, lost wages, and general damages. After reviewing the evidence, a jury finds you were 30% at fault for the accident, since you were speeding and talking on the phone. After accounting for your degree of fault, your settlement is $70,000.

Most states have a comparative negligence rule in which you can collect compensation as long as you were not more than 50% at fault. Maryland however, is different.

Maryland still abides by an old, legal doctrine known as “contributory negligence.” This holds that if you have any degree of fault in an accident, you cannot collect compensation. If, for example, a jury finds you even 5% at fault, your personal injury claim becomes null and void. Maryland is one of only five states to have this law on the books.

Why Contributory Negligence?

Why does Maryland have such a harsh rule? While it may not seem fair, it does serve a couple of purposes, including:

  • Keeping insurance rates low, since there are fewer lawsuits.
  • To motivate drivers to operate their vehicles safely, since a mistake can be costly.
  • To make the legal process simple, transparent, and less costly for the state’s taxpayers.

Keep in mind, there are still plenty of instances in which a driver may be 100% at fault. If you ever have questions about the process, or whether your accident will qualify under Maryland law, consult with the Baltimore personal injury lawyer Randolph Rice. Call today for a free consultation! (410) 694-7291