Maryland, DC and Virginia are all contributory negligence states. Under this doctrine, a plaintiff found to be even 1% responsible for a loss is barred from any sort of positive verdict. (see more here). "Most other states allow juries to consider the relative fault of all parties in determining whether, and how much, to award a plaintiff." This is bad for cyclists and pedestrians who are more likely to be plaintiffs than defendants and are unlikely to have no-fault insurance protection.
A case recently came before the courts that might have overturned this doctrine as Jim Titus discussed last summer. As he predicted, the court instead upheld it.
Given the widespread support for the doctrine of contributory negligence in the business community, one would normally assume that the Court would decide that the Legislature is the proper forum for deciding whether to repeal contributory negligence. And this case seems particularly ill-suited for the Court to fundamentally change the tort law. It would be too easy to parody the idea that Maryland now wants to award damages to people who smoke pot and swing on flimsy structures. If the Court of Appeals is going to award damages to contributorily negligent plaintiffs, one would think they would start with a plaintiff whose negligence seemed more honorable, such as a cyclist riding too far to the right or an assertive pedestrian struck in the crosswalk by a driver who fails to yield.
The Washington Post reports on the verdict
In a 5 to 2 ruling, the Court of Appeals in Annapolis said it has the power to rewrite the rules, which opponents consider harsh and antiquated. But the majority pointed to the General Assembly’s failure to do so as a reason for restraint.
In a 51-page dissent, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. compared the current standard known as contributory negligence to a dinosaur that he said should be rendered extinct with “the force of a modern asteroid strike.”
Harrell, who was joined by recently retired chief judge Robert M. Bell, said the court has the power and the responsibility to depart from its previous 30-year-old ruling. He said Maryland should join 46 other states with systems that reduce a plaintiff’s compensation in proportion to his or her relative fault.
Despite the plaintiff being a bit unsympathetic, he still had a reasonable case
A jury in Coleman’s case found the Soccer Association of Columbia negligent for failing to properly secure the goal. But it also found Coleman partly to blame, prohibiting him from collecting any money to pay for treatment of severe facial fractures he suffered in the 2008 incident.
So now it is left to the legislature to fix this issue.
Over the years, the General Assembly has rejected dozens of bills that would shift to a system of comparative negligence. In his concurring opinion, Greene acknowledged that such a system may be “more equitable,” and he urged the General Assembly to tackle the issue.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) tried unsuccessfully last session to press for a commission that would have wrestled with the implications of any change. In light of the court’s opinion and specific guidance, she said, there may now be more interest.
Unfortunately, there are some big guns who oppose the change and nothing comparable on the other side.
Business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Insurance Association and the American Medical Association, have been successful in Annapolis — as they were in court — in arguing that such a sweeping shift in public policy would increase litigation, insurance rates and taxes.