Fault is determined in a contributory negligence case by weighing the causal factors that led to the plaintiff’s injuries in an accident.
In any personal injury case, the plaintiff will first argue how the defendant’s negligence led to their injuries. This involves proving a series of elements that demonstrate how the defendant’s negligence correlates with the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Afterward, the defendant has an opportunity to counterargue the plaintiff’s claims and present their argument on how the plaintiff contributed to the cause of the accident. This also involves proving a series of elements that demonstrate how the plaintiff’s actions may be considered negligent. If successful, the plaintiff may be assigned contributory negligence and would not be owed damages from the defendant.
This article briefly explains what might be considered when hearing each party’s argument in a personal injury case.
The Burden of Proof Is Crucial No Matter Which Side Claims Negligence
In criminal defense cases, you might have heard that the “burden of proof” falls on the prosecution to prove the defendant is guilty. However, in personal injury cases where both parties might share fault, both parties are expected to provide evidence to support their claims if they attempt to claim the other party was negligent.
Because Maryland follows a contributory negligence doctrine, the plaintiff should anticipate that the defendant might say they were not totally at fault for the accident. It does not matter if the defendant was mostly at fault for an accident because, with a contributory negligence tort rule, even one percent of fault assigned to the plaintiff can jeopardize their ability to win compensation, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).
Your lawyer can help you collect evidence that might reveal how the defendant caused the accident, such as videos and photos of the scene, testimonies from witnesses, and expert analysis. The specific evidence you need will vary by the type of accident you were involved in, which your lawyer can advise you on.
Proving Each Element of Negligence
The Legal Information Institute (LII) describes the general structure for arguing negligence, which involves four elements:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a “duty of care,” which can be defined as an obligation to keep the plaintiff from harm in a certain situation or environment.
- The defendant’s actions or inactions breached this duty of care, which presented a hazard or allowed a hazard to continue existing and affect others.
- Because of the defendant’s breach of duty, an accident or harm occurred.
- The plaintiff suffered multiple injuries in the accident or harmful incident as a result.
As the plaintiff, you will have to present evidence to prove these claims. The defense may scrutinize each element and strategically question any point they feel has not been definitely proven. However, your lawyer may anticipate this and have additional evidence to counter these defenses.
The Defendant May Try to Assign Fault to You
In court, the judge and jury have the final word on which party or parties are assigned fault, but before they can determine this, the defense is given a chance to disagree with your claims. When a defendant argues contributory negligence against the plaintiff, it may follow a similar structure in certain cases.
For example, in car accident cases, the defendant might argue:
- The plaintiff also had a duty of care to the defendant (e.g., as all drivers using the road do).
- The plaintiff’s actions or inactions contributed to the cause of the accident.
- The plaintiff could have avoided the accident if they had taken the appropriate actions.
However, these are not definitive statements and may be considered more theoretical. The defendant must provide evidence to prove these claims. If they cannot prove them, the plaintiff is not guilty of contributory negligence.
Get Legal Help from the Law Offices of Adam M. Smallow
If you suffered an injury in Edgewood and want to bring a personal injury case against the party who caused it, call the Law Offices of Adam M. Smallow to get legal assistance. Our attorneys have handled numerous personal injury cases in Maryland and know how contributory negligence can affect a plaintiff’s ability to receive compensation. The way fault is determined in a contributory negligence case can feel like an all-or-nothing battle, but as your legal advocate, we aim to fight for your right to compensation for the damages you experienced.
Call our law firm at (410) 877-6021 for a free case review. A team member can assess the circumstances involved in your case and provide a brief explanation about the legal services we provide as we work on clients’ cases, including yours.