Start your free consultation

What Does Contributory Negligence Mean in Maryland?

Posted on 06/22/20 by admin in Personal Injury

When it comes to resolving personal injury cases in Maryland, the court must first determine who was responsible for the accident. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast. Maryland is one of only five jurisdictions in the United States that still use contributory negligence versus comparative negligence when determining whether or not a plaintiff can recover damages following an accident. The others are Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C. The rest of the country uses various forms of comparative negligence.

Paper with pen on it reading Contributory Negligence


What is Contributory Negligence?

The dated doctrine of contributory negligence makes it far more challenging for accident victims in Maryland to recover damages. According to the doctrine, if they are found to have had any fault in the accident, they are ineligible to receive compensation from the other party involved. Comparative negligence, on the other hand, allows a plaintiff to recover compensation for the portion of the accident deemed to have been caused by the other party. For instance, if the court determines the plaintiff was 20% at fault and the defendant was 80% at fault, the plaintiff can still recover 80% of the damages incurred. 

Concerned women being pointed at by multiple hansds.


How Did We Get Here?

Irwin v. Sprigg

Maryland has a long history of using contributory negligence, and the battle to replace it with the fairer comparative negligence doctrine continues in the state legislature. Its roots can be traced back to the Irwin v. Sprigg case of 1847. Harriet Sprigg was walking down an alley when she fell into the exposed basement window well of Thomas Irwin’s home. She broke her leg in several places and filed a claim to recover damages from Mr. Irwin. The court found that Ms. Harriet could have exercised more caution and stayed on the pavement, thus missing the window well altogether. Because of her apparent negligence she was not awarded compensation of any kind.


Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia

More recently, the Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia case of 2013 tested the validity of Maryland’s doctrine of contributory negligence. While practicing soccer, James Coleman grabbed the top crossbar of an unanchored soccer goal. The goal fell over, sending him backwards, and the crossbar hit his face causing injuries and multiple surgeries. The initial court ruling stated that Mr. Coleman shared much of the fault for hanging on the crossbar. Coleman appealed the case to a higher court with the sole purpose of challenging contributory negligence, but was denied again when the appellate court said the Maryland state legislature should change the law versus making exceptions on a case by case basis.

Page on Judge's desk labeled negligence


What Does it Take to Win Your Contributory Negligence Case?

Because Maryland uses contributory negligence, finding the right attorney to help win your personal injury case is even more important. Your personal injury attorney has to prove you had no fault in causing the injury you sustained, because the accident was solely caused by the negligence of the other party. That is no easy task and success is never guaranteed, but Malloy Law Offices can give you a fighting chance. Our experienced Clinton personal injury attorneys have won numerous cases where negligent defendants used contributory negligence as their main defense. Contact us today at (202) 464-0727 or reach us via our website