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Contributory Negligence: The Un-Lottery of Personal Injury – Part I

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Posted On 10.30.11 by in Blog

Here’s a real case:

J.D., a woman in a motorized wheelchair, tried to cross Cold Spring Lane at the eastern side of its intersection with Loch Raven Boulevard, in Baltimore City. It was dusk. She was within a marked crosswalk and the light was in her favor. A southbound car on Loch Raven turned left on a yellow light, straight into her path, leaving her on the ground and shoving the chair some 8 or 10 feet. Miraculously her personal injuries were not serious. She had managed to throw herself out of the chair moments before being struck.

More important to J.D. was that the wheelchair was destroyed. With the loss of this wheelchair, she lost her independence. She couldn’t afford a new wheelchair, and Medicaid was not going to give her another one anytime soon, except maybe a manual one which was of little use to her.

But J.D. was a self-starter. Despite having an illness that required her to use a motorized chair, she did everything she could to obtain personal injury compensation on her own. After all, she’d fought housing authorities over inaccessible public housing, pursued her Social Security Disability claim, qualified for Medical Assistance, and obtained food stamps.

J.D. hounded the driver’s insurer, but it refused to pay. The wheelchair wasn’t found in the crosswalk, they said, so she must have been jaywalking. She patiently explained why the wheelchair wasn’t found in the crosswalk. Then they said the chair was missing the reflectors required by Maryland law. They rattled off a statute, but wouldn’t make her a copy. Without a motorized wheelchair, J.D. couldn’t go to the library and look up this law. Refusing to pay the claim, the insurer sent her a letter saying it was “a clear case of contributory negligence.”

For the rest of the story, where you’ll learn more about contributory negligence in personal injury cases, check back here in a few days. I’ll be posting Part II. There could even be a Part III. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for our new article on “contrib” that we’re working on for our online resources page.

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