Maryland’s high court recently upheld the state’s common law doctrine of contributory negligence, confirming its position as one of only a few states in which the doctrine remains law. The doctrine bars a plaintiff from any recovery when his own negligence contributes to his injuries, even if the defendant’s negligence also caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, the plaintiff was injured when a soccer goal fell on top of him after he jumped up and grabbed it while retrieving a ball. 2013 WL 3449426, * 1 (Md. July 9, 2013). Despite the jury’s finding that the defendant’s negligence in failing to anchor the goal caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff was barred from recovery because the jury found that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to his injuries as well. Id. at * 2.
In its opinion, the court reviewed the judicial creation and modification of the doctrine, noting that it was last affirmed by the court in the 1983 case of Harrison v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 295 Md. 442, 444, 456 A.2d 894 (1983). While the doctrine has a long history in the state, the court noted its authority to change the principle should it deem such change necessary. Coleman, 2013 WL 3449426, at * 2. Nevertheless, the court did not change it, despite its awareness of the heavy criticism that has been cast upon the doctrine from all directions. Id. at * 5. It even acknowledged that the doctrine has been rejected by the majority of states. Id. Instead, the court upheld the doctrine, relying mostly upon the state’s legislative history – or lack thereof. To the court, “[t]he General Assembly’s repeated failure to pass legislation abrogating the defense of contributory negligence is very strong evidence that the legislative policy in Maryland is to retain the principle of contributory negligence.” Id. at * 7. Accordingly, because of the “clear indication of the [state’s] legislative policy,” id. at * 6, the court “decline[d] to abrogate Maryland’s long established common law principle of contributory negligence.” Id. at * 2.