What is Contributory Negligence and How Does it Affect an Accident?

By Peter DePaolis

Injury Attorneys Discuss Negligence Laws in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland

Contributory negligence is the law of the land in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. This law affects everyone who has ever been in an accident in these locations; yet, most people are unaware of this important legal concept. Contributory negligence prevents an injured person from recovering from another driver if the injured person even slightly contributed to the accident.

The classic example of contributory negligence is the case of the pedestrian hit by a car. Let’s assume the car driver was speeding 50 mph in a 35 mph zone and could not stop fast enough to avoid hitting the pedestrian. Speeding is a form of negligence. However, let’s also assume the pedestrian stepped off the curb and was not in a designated walkway when struck by the car.

Because the pedestrian technically contributed to the accident (even if the speeding car was the main cause of the accident,) the pedestrian may not be eligible to receive any compensation at all. This type of situation occurs frequently with bicyclists and motorcycle operators, as well.

Only five regions practice this form of so-called pure contributory negligence, and Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland are among them. For this reason, it is vitally important that if you intend to file a personal injury claim, you should speak to an experienced attorney immediately after an accident. If you were hurt as a pedestrian or bicycle rider and the other driver was able to prove you to be even 1 percent at fault, you would receive absolutely no compensation for your injury.

Is There An Alternative to Contributory Negligence?

If only four states and the District of Columbia practice contributory negligence, what about the rest of the country? In the above example, for instance, the victim might be determined to have been 25 percent responsible for the accident for not being on a designated crosswalk. In most states he or she would actually be eligible to receive 75 percent of the possible damages (discounting 25 percent for his or her contribution to the accident.) This is known as comparative negligence.

Most states have abandoned contributory negligence in favor of comparative negligence because they understand that the former approach is hopelessly old-fashioned and blatantly unfair to victims of accidents.

It is high time the last few holdout states join the 21st century.

Luckily, in a recent Maryland case, while a circuit court upheld a contributory negligence decision, one judge wrote a scathing dissent, saying “With the force of a modern asteroid strike, this court should render, in the present case, this dinosaur extinct.” The judge’s extensive dissent may prove to be significant. While the judge’s remarks may not have any immediate effect, strong dissents sometimes emerge as majority opinions and become law in the future.

I Have Been in an Accident and I Need an Experienced Injury Attorney

At Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis L.L.P., we have years of experience dealing with the complicated area of contributory negligence. If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important that you speak with an attorney before giving any report to an insurance agent. Our Washington, D.C. injury attorneys can help you work you make the right decisions and retrieve the compensation you deserve. Call us right away.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.