Maryland’s highest state court issued an opinion this week upholding Maryland’s long-standing principle of contributory negligence, which precludes a plaintiff from recovering any damages if his own negligence contributed – even in just a small amount – to his injuries.
In Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, the Maryland Court of Appeals refused the plaintiff’s request to overturn the state’s common law contributory negligence principle, which has been in place for over 165 years. Although the court recognized its own authority to change this principle, it declined to do so, holding that the negligence standard involved matters of policy best left to the determination of the state legislature. Thus, in Maryland, contributory negligence still reigns supreme.
Maryland is one of only 5 jurisdictions – which include Virginia and the District of Columbia – to retain a contributory negligence standard. Most other states have adopted some form of comparative negligence, which reduces proportionally – but does not foreclose – a plaintiff’s damages based on his own share of fault. Thus, under a comparative negligence scheme, a plaintiff that is 1% at fault for his injuries will be entitled to 99% of his damages from the defendant; under a contributory negligence scheme, a 1% negligent plaintiff is unable to recover any damages at all.
Although many (including Coleman’s dissent) have criticized contributory negligence as an antiquated and unfair principle, it remains beneficial to Maryland businesses and employers who may find themselves the target of various negligence actions.