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.