Maryland is just one of four states that still follow the common-law rule of contributory negligence. This means an accident victim cannot receive any compensation if a court finds they are even 1-percent at-fault for their injuries. So even if the defendant is 99 percent responsible, they walk away and have to pay nothing.
In a recent poll, the Daily Record said 69 percent of respondents supported abolishing contributory negligence in Maryland. Instead, the respondents agreed Maryland should adopt a comparative negligence standard. This is the rule followed by most states in some form.
Under comparative negligence, a court examines each side’s relative fault for an accident. The victim’s damages are then reduced in proportion to their fault. States with a “pure” comparative negligence standard allow a plaintiff to recover some damages regardless of their own fault. Most states, however, follow a modified comparative negligence rule. This imposes a threshold on the plaintiff’s liability. For example, if a jury decides a plaintiff is 51 percent responsible for the accident, they recover nothing. But if the plaintiff was only 49 percent at-fault, the defendant must pay 51 percent of the damages.
Upper Marlboro, MD, personal injury attorney Rick Jaklitsch said adopting comparative fault would bring Maryland in line with the rest of the country. “Contributory negligence imposes an enormous burden on accident victims. It allows clearly negligent defendants to avoid responsibility if the plaintiff made even a small error that contributed to the accident. The majority of states decided long ago this was unfair and unjust.”
Jaklitsch hopes the Maryland General Assembly will force change on the system, or that Maryland’s highest court will not duck the issue. “The Maryland Court of Appeals had the opportunity in 2013 to abandon the contributory negligence rule. It declined to do so. The Court acknowledged the ‘all-or nothing consequences’ of contributory negligence faced heavy criticism. But the judges felt bound by precedent, and left it to the legislature to enact meaningful change.”
Three other states–Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama–also maintain the contributory negligence rule. But there are signs of growing public opposition. Earlier this year, the Cavalier Daily in Charlottesville, Va., called on the Virginia General Assembly to adopt a comparative fault standard. The editorial board called contributory negligence “excessively harsh.” The paper noted a comparative fault rule would help promote the safety of pedestrians and individuals who use electric scooters.