Thursday, July 25, 2013

Maryland Court upholds contributory negligence standard

On July 9, the Court of Appeals of Maryland issued a ruling in a case (JAMES COLEMAN v. SOCCER ASSOCIATION OF COLUMBIA) in which a plaintiff sought damages for injuries sustained when he jumped up to hang on the top bar of a soccer goal that was unsecured. The goal toppled on top of him, and he sustained serious injuries to his face. The trial court denied damages, because it found that the plaintiff was partially responsible for his own injuries, and under Maryland's contributory negligence standard that means that he cannot recover anything. On appeal, the plaintiff asked the Court to instead apply a comparative negligence standard, under which the plaintiff could recover at least partial damages, even though he was found to have contributed to his own injuries. Noting that the legislature has considered the question of whether to replace the contributory negligence standard with the comparative negligence on numerous occasions and has failed to do so, the Court said: "For this Court to change the common law and abrogate the contributory negligence defense in negligence actions, in the face of the General Assembly’s repeated refusal to do so, would be totally inconsistent with the Court’s long-standing jurisprudence." The Court also noted that there are several different versions of comparative negligence standards in use in various states, and choosing one that would be best for Maryland is best left to the legislature.

There was a lengthy dissent, in which the contributory negligence standard was described as a "dinosaur," which the dissent predicted would be relegated to "a judicial tar pit at some point" in the future.

Maryland is one of a handful of states that still applies the contributory negligence standard, which is favorable to defendants in negligence suits because it denies the award of damages if the injured party can be shown to have contributed to his own injuries through his own negligence.

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