Maryland Reconsiders Contributory Negligence Bar to Personal Injury Claim Recoveries

by Monty Yolles on October 10, 2012

Maryland Considers Changing Contributory Negligence Rule

The collapse of a soccer goal in Howard County may lead the state’s highest court to reconsider Maryland’s position on contributory negligence.

As it exists today, Maryland law says that an injured person cannot recover money for his injuries if he contributed to the accident.  This is true even if the injured person is only one percent at fault for an accident.  The legal standard is known as contributory negligence, and Maryland is one of only four states plus the District of Columbia that still follow the archaic rule.

Maryland first adopted the contributory negligence rule in the 1847 case of Irwin v. Spriggs. The plaintiff in that case was barred from recovering damages for his injuries after he fell through an opening near a cellar window.  The defendant prevailed by arguing that the plaintiff should have been more careful. 

The remaining 46 other states have moved on to various applications of the “comparative negligence” rule, which in most states allows a plaintiff to recover money for his injuries as long as he was less than fifty percent at fault for an accident. 

In the Howard County soccer goal case, the bones in Kyle Coleman’s face were crushed when a soccer goal fell on him.  The soccer goal fell after Coleman grabbed a crossbar on his way to retrieve a ball.

Predictably, the usual players have aligned themselves.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association oppose changing the legal standard in Maryland, warning of a legal apocalypse and the sudden reversal of one of humanity’s most basic tendencies: self-preservation.  (Court filings from the defense side warn of “careless behavior” and a “spike in frivolous suits”.)   If in doubt, remember who drove the negative publicity bus over Mrs. Stella Liebeck, the victim of McDonald’s ridiculously hot coffee, who sustained third-degree burns and skin grafts.  One hundred and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit, seriously?

Oddly enough, the sky doesn’t appear to have fallen in the 46 states that already moved to a comparative negligence standard. 

At The Yolles Legal Group, we believe those injured due to someone else’s negligence should be allowed to recover, even if they were partially at fault, and we are anxiously awaiting the court’s decision in the Coleman case. 

The real question is going to be, if the law changes, will it be retroactive so that claims that may have been barred under contributory negligence may now be valid.

Monty Yolles, founder of THE YOLLES LEGAL GROUP, is an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney.  Let us review your case and help you navigate the nuances of the Maryland legal system.  Call Monty Yolles today at (301)670-0443 to discuss your case, or send an email inquiry to monty@yolleslaw.com.

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