September 18, 2013 Top Story

Maryland Declines to Do Away with Contributory Negligence

High court leaves negligence standard for the legislature to decide

Sara E. Costello

Contributory negligence remains a viable defense, the Court of Appeals of Maryland recently held in Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia. Although the Coleman court acknowledged that contributory negligence is unpopular with legal scholars and is criticized for creating a “windfall” for defendants, it declined to change the doctrine. Rather, the court held that the state legislature should take the lead in adopting a different negligence standard.

Competing Negligence Doctrines

Only a few jurisdictions continue to apply the doctrine of contributory negligence. In Maryland, along with Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, if a plaintiff negligently contributes to his injuries, he cannot recover damages. In contrast, the majority of jurisdictions have switched to a comparative negligence standard. As the dissent explains in Coleman, when this standard is applied, “a plaintiff’s contributory negligence does not bar recovery, but rather reduces proportionately his or her damages.”

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