Maryland High Court Opinion Upholds Contributory Negligence Doctrine

Earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an important opinion in the case of Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, which many legal scholars felt might toll the death knell for the doctrine of contributory negligence in Maryland.

Maryland is one of only five jurisdictions in the United States that continues to use the legal doctrine of contributory negligence. The doctrine of contributory negligence states that, if a plaintiff’s failure to exercise due care contributes to the cause of an accident; he or she will be totally precluded from recovering damages from the other party.

For instance, if an individual is injured in a car accident caused by another driver’s negligence, but was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, the injured party may be barred from recovering because his negligent act, in failing to wear a seatbelt, contributed to the cause of his injuries.

In Coleman, the plaintiff, James Kyle Coleman, was seriously injured when a set of goalposts fell on his face. Coleman, a volunteer soccer coach for the defendant, Columbia Soccer Association (“Association”), had jumped up and grabbed the posts’ crossbar. The soccer goal was not anchored to the ground, and Coleman fell backwards, pulling the goal onto his face. Coleman suffered severe facial fractures that required surgery.

Coleman sued the Association, alleging that he had been injured by the Association’s negligent failure to secure the soccer goal to the ground. At trial, the Association asserted the defense of contributory negligence, and a jury found that, although the Association had been negligent, so had Coleman, barring him from any recovery.
Coleman filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals, asserting one question to be address: whether the Court should retain the standard of contributory negligence as the common law standard governing negligence cases in the State of Maryland.

In a 5-2 majority, the Court of Appeals upheld the principle of contributory negligence, asserting that the question of whether to change to another model is one for the state legislature to answer. The Court opined:

The General Assembly’s repeated failure to pass legislation abrogating the defense of contributory negligence is very strong evidence that the legislative policy in Maryland is to retain the principle of contributory negligence….For this Court to change the common law and abrogate the contributory negligence defense in negligence actions, in the face of the General Assembly’s repeated refusal to do so, would be totally inconsistent with the Court’s long-standing jurisprudence.

One of two dissenters, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote, “With the force of a modern asteroid strike, this Court should render, in the present case, this dinosaur extinct.”

The qualified attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured by the negligence of another. If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of another person’s negligent conduct, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.