September 2012 Archives

September 28, 2012

Maryland Court of Appeals overturns verdict where judge failed to give Assumption of the Risk Jury Instruction

danger.jpgThe Maryland Court of Appeals, earlier this week, overturned the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, finding that the Judge erred by failing to instruct the jury on the issue of Assumption of Risk in a personal injury trial.

Our Annapolis Maryland Injury Attorneys have years of experience representing those who have been injured by the negligence of others.

In S&S Oil v. Jackson, the Plaintiff sought personal injury damages as a result of injuries she claimed she sustained while stepping on an uneven flooring surface in a gasoline service station undergoing renovation. The service station's defense was based in part of the allegation that the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent and that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of injuries.

At trial, the station owner testified that there was orange or red caution tape across part of the construction area and a "Watch Your Step" sign somewhere in the immediate vicinity. The Plaintiff testified that she did not see either the caution tape or the warning sign and that she assumed the floor surface was level.

Traditionally, at the close of evidence, the jury is read jury instruction, including an instruction on the issue of Assumption of Risk, if the trial testimony has generated the issue. The most recent jury instruction for Assumption of Risk, as published in the Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, Fourth Edition, reads as follows:

A Plaintiff cannot recover if the plaintiff has assumed the risk of injury. A person assumes the risk of an injury if that person knows and understands the risk of an existing danger or reasonably should have known and understood the risk of an existing danger, and voluntarily chooses to encounter the risk.

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September 11, 2012

Maryland appellate case asks Court to adopt Doctrine of Comparative Negligence

The Maryland Court of Appeals heard arguments yesterday in the case of Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, et al. In the Coleman case, a Howard County jury found a Soccer Association negligent in its maintenance of a soccer goal which collapsed, resulting in the in an injury to the Plaintiff. Under Maryland's Contributory Negligence law, however, the Plaintiff did not recover any damages after the jury found that the Plaintiff was also negligent, and Plaintiff's negligence contributed to his injury.

Our Annapolis Maryland injury attorneys have years of significant experience representing accident victims and rebutting allegations of contributory negligence argued by Defense attorneys.

Under the Doctrine of Contributory Negligence, a Plaintiff who in any way is determined to be negligent - even if determined to be only one percent negligent - is precluded from recovering any damages from a negligent Defendant. The rationale is that the Plaintiff has contributed to his/her injuries.

Under a Comparative Negligence system, as advocated by the Plaintiff's attorney in the Coleman case, the jury would be asked to assess the relative fault of the Plaintiff or Defendant. If, for example, the jury found the Defendant was 80% negligent and the Plaintiff was 20% negligent, Plaintiff's damages would be reduced by 20%.

The Coleman case represents an effort on the part of a Plaintiff's attorney to ask the Court to overturn the Doctrine of Contributory negligence, which was first adopted by the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1847 in the case of Irwin v. Sprigg. Maryland is one of only 5 states that still abides by a contributory negligence standard (the other four are Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia).

Although several bills have been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to create a comparative negligence system, these bills have failed on multiple occasions, amid heavy lobbying from various plaintiff and defendant-friendly lobbying groups.

The main arguments advanced by the Plaintiff is that the doctrine of contributory negligence is not a just system in that injured Plaintiffs are denied relief even in cases where the Defendant is determined to be negligent. Defendants argue that the legislature, rather than the Court of Appeals, should establish the law. Additionally, other defense organizations argued that overturning the contributory negligence doctrine, would "[throw] a rock in the pond of Maryland court system and would spur years of chaos and litigation."

The Court did not indicate when it would issue its decision, but typically takes several months to issue its decision. In the mean time, legislators may introduce another effort to legislate comparative negligence in Maryland.

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