Maryland is one four states (along with Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia plus the District of Columbia) that recognize the Contributory Negligence Rule, which says that a damaged party cannot recover any damages if it is even 1% at fault. The following examples serve as a guide to show you how contributory negligence may apply to your case:
In a typical rear-end accident where the presumption is that the driver that hit the car in front is generally considered at-fault, the ‘innocent’ driver may be barred from receiving any compensation if the at-fault driver can show that the other party was somehow at fault. One example is where a pedestrian goes to help a driver push a disabled vehicle off the road and gets injured by a negligent driver who rear-ends the disabled car and injures the person pushing the car. In this situation, an insurance company’s attorney will argue that a tow truck should have been called and the ‘Good Samaritan’ pedestrian otherwise should have appreciated the danger of walking into a roadway to push a car. If a Judge or jury agrees with the defendant, the Good Samaritan plaintiff gets nothing even if he/she sustained fractures and other serious injuries.
Another classic example is if you cross a street without looking both ways — and while ignoring a traffic signal — and you’re hit by a car, you likely will be liable for contributory negligence.
A plaintiff is driving slightly higher than the speed limit when he/she is struck by a drunk driver who runs a red light. If the drunk driver can prove that the plaintiff was speeding, the contributory negligence defense will attach to the case and serve to bar the plaintiff from any recovery.
Suffice it to say that if you are a personal injury plaintiff in Maryland, the one phrase you don’t want to hear is “contributory negligence”. Nonetheless, as bad as it appears, it is not all gloom and doom. There are at least 3 exceptions that, if met, bar the defendant from asserting a defense of contributory negligence:
Some apparently negligent acts are statutorily exempted from contributory negligence application. For example, the failure to use a seat-belt or child restraint is a negligent act, however, according to the Maryland Transportation Code, while these examples are technically misdemeanor crimes; they are inadmissible to prove contributory negligence in a personal injury case.
If the plaintiff can show that the defendant was ‘super’ negligent then the plaintiff may overcome a contributory negligence defense. What does this mean? The plaintiff has to show that the defendant’s willful and wanton acts caused the injury in order to bar the defendant from asserting the contributory negligence defense.
If the plaintiff can show that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid an accident and did not do so, then the defendant can still be held accountable even if a plaintiff is found contributorily negligent. The last clear chance doctrine places a duty upon the responsible party. He or she is charged with knowledge that continuing along a course of action will result in injury to another person – a person who is not in a position to avoid the risk. If the actor still proceeds with the conduct and fails to change the course of action, contributory negligence will not be justified to prevent the plaintiff from recovering.
Therefore, auto accident cases that normally seem straightforward may contain thorny facts that could cause the plaintiff heartache and disappointment due to contributory negligence. This is a situation that calls for a seasoned and experienced personal injury attorney to carefully assess and get in front of potential pitfalls in order to help you to recover the compensation that you need to reimburse you for medical expenses, lost wages, the value of your pain and suffering, and other noneconomic and economic losses.
If you’ve been injured, we can help you because we have the experience needed to painstakingly assess your case in furtherance of a successful outcome. For a free case consultation, contact us at your earliest convenience. As always: No fee unless we recover.