“Contributory Negligence” is a legal doctrine that severely impacts an injured person's right to recover damages if they were partially at fault for the injury. Maryland remains one of the few remaining states to use this doctrine in assessing injury claims.
Under Maryland law, a person who is found to be contributorily negligent may not recover ANY damages for their injuries, regardless of how minor their contribution to the accident might have been. For example, suppose an individual is hit by a car while crossing the street and it is determined that they were not paying attention. In that case, they may be found to be contributorily negligent and barred from receiving compensation for their injuries. Under this analysis, it wouldn’t matter if the motorist was driving drunk when the collision occurred. If some fault, however slight, can be put on the pedestrian, the pedestrian could end up recovering NOTHING.
The law of contributory negligence in Maryland is often criticized for being harsh and outdated. This is because it operates on a strict "all or nothing" basis, meaning that an injured person who is even 1% at fault for their injury cannot recover any damages. In comparison, the 99% at fault defendant pays not a dime for even serious injuries. The Maryland Rule is in contrast to the great majority of other states, which have all adopted a more modern approach to contributory negligence known as "comparative negligence."
Under the comparative negligence doctrine, an injured person can still recover damages even if they were partially at fault for their injury. The amount of damages that the injured person can recover is simply reduced by the percentage of fault that is attributed to them. For example, if an individual is hit by a car and is found to be 20% at fault for the incident, they can still recover damages, but the amount of damages that they can receive, say $100,000, will be reduced by 20%, yielding a final recovery to the victim of $80,000.
Despite criticism and recent legal challenges in Maryland’s appellate courts, contributory negligence law has remained unchanged and is still in effect today. This means that it is important for Maryland residents to be aware of the doctrine and to take steps to minimize their risk of being found contributorily negligent in the event of an injury.
From the moment you present a Maryland injury claim, an experienced claims adjuster on the other side will almost certainly start pouring over the facts of the case to find some
argument as to why you might have contributed to the incident. In conversation about the accident, the claim rep might casually ask, “Was there any way for you to avoid the accident” or “If you could do this again, what might you do next time to avoid the accident?” Notice that these questions are focused on YOUR conduct, not the motorist that hit you. A wrong answer could sink your case. At Sussman & Simcox, we strongly urge prospective clients to stay off the phone with insurance personnel until they have spoken with an attorney and been educated on potential issues that might be raised.
If you have been in a traffic collision, don’t delay. Call Sussman & Simcox for a free initial consultation. It could make a massive difference for your case.