What Is Contributory Negligence and How Might It Affect Your Maryland Personal Injury Case?

By Peter DePaolis

Most states have implemented a legal doctrine known as comparative negligence which allows personal injury plaintiffs to still claim damages even though they were partially to blame. A small handful of other states employ something called contributory negligence, which invalidates a plaintiff’s claim entirely if he or she were even a little bit at fault for the injury.

Unfortunately, Maryland is one of those states. If you have been hurt in a personal injury in Maryland, there’s a good chance the defendant will attempt to use this doctrine to bar any recovery of damages. Having an experienced attorney is therefore critical to protecting your legal rights.

What is contributory negligence?

The reason most states (other than Maryland) have adopted comparative negligence is that they recognize that not allowing a plaintiff to recover anything at all for even the slightest fault is simply not fair. In a comparative negligence situation, a defendant can assert the plaintiff’s own negligent behavior as a defense in the subsequent lawsuit. This effectively lowers the number of damages the defendant would have to pay out if found liable for the injury.

For example, let’s say the defendant was preparing to turn left at a green light intersection. The driver has the duty to yield to traffic coming in the opposite direction, but can turn left when the intersection is clear. A car is approaching in the opposite direction. The defendant misjudges how far away the car is, turns left, and the oncoming car slams into it.

Later, it is discovered that the oncoming plaintiff driver was speeding at the time he or she crashed into the left-turning defendant. Although the defendant was clearly liable, the plaintiff is not without fault. A jury might assign 30% of the responsibility for the accident to the plaintiff because of his or her role in causing the accident. If the total amount of damages that would have been awarded to the plaintiff is $100,000, it would then be reduced by 30% ($30,000) for a total of $70,000.

In Maryland, on the other hand, even a finding of 1% liability will invalidate the plaintiff’s claim. Under contributory negligence, the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit can ask the jury to determine whether the plaintiff shared any blame for the accident. For this reason, contributory negligence is a defense that can potentially result in the plaintiff receiving nothing.

Contributory Negligence’s Impact on Your Case

Although contributory negligence is unpopular in Maryland, it remains the law of the land and has been repeatedly upheld by the state’s courts. That means if you file a personal injury claim, there’s a good chance the defendant will try to find something in the accident to use against you. If, for example, you have an automobile accident claim and there’s evidence that you were speeding, you can expect the defendant to assign blame to you and argue that you shouldn’t receive any compensation.

The defendant’s insurance company will probably try to prevent the case from going anywhere by denying your claim outright. Because contributory negligence is such a conclusive defense, you should expect the insurer to deny payment if it believes it has evidence of your wrongdoing.

The good news, however, is that the insurance company doesn’t get the last word. And just because the defendant has alleged wrongdoing on your part doesn’t make it true. You need a battle-ready personal injury law firm that will stand up for you and be ready to fight back against any attempt to blame you for your injuries. Let Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP help with your Maryland personal injury case today.

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.