Maryland’s high court has rejected a request that it adopt the comparative negligence doctrine and thus allow plaintiffs found negligent in part for their injuries to recover to the extent of the defendants’ culpability; accordingly, the court will continue to apply contributory negligence in certain types of tort actions, barring plaintiffs from any relief however slight their contribution to their own injuries. Coleman v. Soccer Ass’n of Columbia, No. 9, Sept. Term 2012 (Md., decided July 9, 2013). While the court determined that it had the authority to make such a change in the law, it invoked the legislature’s failure to adopt the doctrine as evidence of a state policy that it was unwilling to abrogate.
The plaintiff was injured when he jumped and grabbed the crossbar of an unanchored soccer goal that subsequently landed on his face as he fell backward. His severe facial fractures required surgery and three titanium plates to repair. He requested that the trial court instruct the jury on comparative negligence, but the court refused, and the jury found both the plaintiff and defendant negligent. “Because of the contributory negligence finding, [the plaintiff] was barred from any recovery.” The state high court agreed to hear the case limited to whether it should retain the standard of contributory negligence, and it did so. Two dissenting judges, including one who retired before the opinion was published, called for a future court majority to “relegate the fossilized doctrine of contributory negligence to a judicial tar pit at some point.”
Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s Public Policy attorneys filed an amicus brief on behalf of a number of groups, including the American Tort Reform Association, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and American Medical Association, to support the continued application of the contributory negligence doctrine in the state.