We’re going to finish out the trio of complex Maryland legal principles, starting with contributory negligence and assumption of the risk, and ending today in last clear chance. First, a quick recap:
- Contributory negligence: a plaintiff whose negligence contributed to his own injury cannot win a claim, no matter how small that negligence was.
- Assumption of the risk: applied mostly to slip-and-fall cases, it states that a plaintiff who voluntarily accepts a known risk cannot win a claim.
Last clear chance is very misunderstood—many people wrongly believe that it helps defendants to claim that plaintiff had the last chance to avoid injury. It’s actually a rule that can help the plaintiff where contributory negligence is an issue.
Here’s how last clear chance works in Maryland:
- The plaintiff shows the defendant’s negligence;
- The defendant shows the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to his own injuries (contributory negligence); and
- The plaintiff shows that something new happened to give the defendant a fresh opportunity to avoid his original negligence.
Like assumption of the risk, last clear chance is not frequently used in automobile accident lawsuits. Most accidents are quick things, and last clear chance requires three completely separate and sequential negligent acts by the parties. The defendant must have a brand new chance to avoid the accident after the plaintiff’s contributory negligence. This is more often seen in car versus pedestrian cases (often hit-and-run cases).
Here are the facts from one Maryland last clear chance case:
- The defendant, intoxicated with alcohol and marijuana, was drag racing at about 80 miles per hour (negligence number 1).
- The plaintiff illegally crossed a street (potentially contributory negligence).
- The defendant’s passenger, perhaps less intoxicated than the driver, warned him about the pedestrian who was about 3 blocks ahead at that point.
- The defendant drives on, hitting the pedestrian (negligence number 2).
Here, the court decided that the jury was allowed to decide for itself if the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. If the court had ruled that he wasn’t, there would be no need for a last clear chance argument. As it was, the plaintiff’s lawyers brought it up in case the jury decided that against them on that issue.
The court decided the defendant driver had two acts of negligence—(1) driving well over the speed limit (it didn’t really comment about the intoxication); and (2) failing to stop when he was told about the plaintiff. This assumes that he could have stopped within 3 blocks while going between 75 and 80 miles per hour.
In a last clear chance case, the plaintiff gets a second chance to win. Of course, this rule may become a relic if the Maryland Court of Appeals eliminates contributory negligence (though, a minority of states still allow last clear chance arguments in cases with comparative negligence).
Even if you believe that you had partial responsibility for your automobile accident, contact our personal injury lawyers at 1-800-776-4529, or online. It’s possible that you might still have a claim because of the last clear chance rule, or in the event that Maryland disposes of the contributory negligence rule.
More Maryland Automobile Accident Information
- Contributory negligence
- Assumption of the risk
- Main automobile accident webpage
- Main premises liability (slip-and-fall) webpage