Pending Case May Overturn Business-Friendly Maryland Law

Posted by Edward Sharkey on Mon, 09/17/2012 - 04:00

A case currently before the Maryland Court of Appeals will determine whether a 160-year-old legal rule in the state will be overturned, and it may have tremendous implications for Maryland businesses and business litigators. The legal principle is called “contributory negligence.” It provides that plaintiffs who contribute to their injuries through their own negligence, however slight, are not entitled to recover compensation, regardless of the defendant’s negligence.

In 2008, a soccer coach was injured when a metal soccer goal tipped over and fell on top of him after he jumped, grabbed onto the goal’s crossbar, and attempted to hang from it. The question before the court is whether the coach’s own negligence in using the soccer goal in a manner for which it was not intended should act as an absolute bar to any financial recovery for his injuries.

Lawyers for the injured coach argue that Maryland’s courts should adopt a rule called “comparative negligence,” under which a plaintiff would be able to recover despite his own negligence. The recovery would be reduced by the percentage of fault the jury attributes to the plaintiff. For example, if a plaintiff suffers $100,000 of damages and is found 40% responsible for his own injury, he may still recover $60,000 under a comparative negligence rule.

Today, 46 states use some form of comparative negligence. Contributory negligence remains the rule, however, in nearby DC, Virginia, and North Carolina. Businesses favor contributory negligence. It reduces litigation and insurance costs. Critics contend that it is unfair to deprive an injured person of compensation simply because they were partially at fault.

For now, the law is unchanged, but businesses should stay tuned for the court’s ruling, as it may have substantial effects on their exposure to liability.

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