In the state of Maryland if a person is in an accident and contributed slightly to the cause of the accident they may not be able to seek compensation. This is called contributory negligence. Because of this theory a victim may not be entitled to compensation for any damages from the person who was largely at fault. For example, Mary is driving home from work one night and a drunk driver runs a stop sign, hitting her causing to be severely injured.  If the defense attorney successfully argues that Mary was even 1% at fault for the accident, her entire claim may be at risk.

This doctrine of contributory negligence is much harsher to injury victims than the “comparative negligence” doctrine in place in the majority of other states.  This doctrine is different in that a partial defense reduces the amount of damages  a plaintiff can recover in a negligence-based claim and is based upon the degree to which the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to cause the damages. …  For example, in the situation explained above the plaintiff may be found to be partially negligent due to the speed at which she was traveling which resulted in her not being able to stop in sufficient time to avoid collision with the drunk driver.  The jury may find this as partial negligence and under the comparative negligence doctrine award the plaintiff $1,000,000.00, but find that due to the plaintiff’s partial negligence reduce the award by 30%, thus reducing the settlement $300,000.00.  This is dramatically different from the contributory negligence doctrine where the plaintive would have been found partially negligent and been awarded nothing at all.  The variants on the comparative negligent doctrine however, also says that the plaintiff may recover only if the negligence is LESS than 50% of the combined negligence or the plaintiff’s negligence is not greater than the defendant’s.  The difference in these variants is that lawyer’s have found that juries are usually less willing to award damages to a plaintiff who is equally at fault than to one who is less at fault.

In the previous example, if the plaintiff proves that the defendant was negligent and the defendant proves contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff the last clear chance doctrine still affords the plaintiff one more chance to prove the defendant responsible.  The burden of proof now lies on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant knowingly and clearly had the chance to avoid the accident but failed to do so.  This doctrine is not available often and is quite difficult to prove.  It requires the defendant be aware of the oncoming danger and there must also be additional evidence proving such, that the defendant had the ability to avoid the accident yet failed to do so along with the plaintiff’s negligence.

Unfortunately, until the doctrine of contributory negligence is changed Maryland will remain among those few states where the plaintiff is considered a contributory party to the accident.  This makes it incredibly difficult for lawyers to recover damages due the plaintiff.  An experienced personal injury professional, knowledgeable in the complex laws of this grey area and not easily intimidated by the opposing counsel is a necessity. When deciding whether to take on an insurance company used to defending cases such as this, you can rest assured our legal team will handle the case with our client’s best interests in mind.