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Can I Still Recover if I Was Partially at Fault for My Accident?

| Category: Personal Injury | January 3, 2020

In many situations, apportioning fault (and damages) in personal injury cases is fairly straightforward, as, for example, in the case of a pedestrian who is struck in a crosswalk by a vehicle running a red light. However, this is not always the case. What if, in the above example, the pedestrian darted out into traffic but was only struck because the vehicle was speeding and could not stop in time? Because both parties were partially at fault, how would a court determine the victim’s damages award? Below, we’ll outline two competing theories courts apply when determining fault in these cases.

Comparative Negligence

The most common standard for apportioning fault and damages in cases where both plaintiff and defendant share the blame for the accident is the comparative negligence standard. Under this standard, a plaintiff generally can recover for his or her damages so long as he or she was less than 50% at fault, but the damages award is reduced by the percentage of fault for which the plaintiff was responsible.

Example: Assume that a plaintiff suffers $100,000 of damages in an accident, but the court finds that the plaintiff was 30% at fault and the defendant was 70% at fault. Under the comparative negligence standard, the plaintiff would be able to recover $70,000.

Contributory Negligence

Under the contributory negligence standard, a plaintiff who is partially at fault in an accident is completely barred from recovery, no matter how negligible his or her fault was. This rule is much less common than the comparative negligence standard and is followed only by a handful of states and the District of Columbia.

Example: Assume the same facts as above, but, in this case, the plaintiff is only 1% at fault, while the defendant is 99% at fault. If the accident occurred in a state that follows the contributory negligence standard, the plaintiff can recover nothing.

Maryland Uses the Contributory Negligence Standard

Maryland is one of the few jurisdictions left in the United States that still applies the older contributory negligence standard to personal injury cases. There have been many efforts to modernize this law to bring Maryland in line with the vast majority of states, but, so far, all attempts to do so in the Maryland General Assembly have failed. The Maryland Supreme Court even reviewed this law in 2013, but declined to change it, stating “For this court to change the common law and abrogate the contributory negligence defense in negligence actions, in the face of the General Assembly’s repeated refusal to do so, would be totally inconsistent with this court’s long-standing jurisprudence.” Thus, for the time being, and for the foreseeable future, plaintiffs in personal injury actions in Maryland are barred from recovery if they were even partially at fault for their injuries.

Contact a Waldorf Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured in an accident and suspect that the potential defendant could raise a contributory negligence defense, you will need competent legal representation to overcome it. Contact the Waldorf personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Thomas E. Pyles at 301-705-5006 for a consultation. We can help you and your family get the compensation that you deserve.  We have office locations in Leonardtown and Laurel for your convenience.