The main difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence is that the contributory negligence doctrine bars plaintiffs from collecting damages if they are found partially at fault for their accident-related injuries, whereas the comparative negligence doctrine does not.
Maryland abides by the contributory negligence rule, so it is important that plaintiffs understand this legal doctrine when preparing their personal injury cases and pursuing compensation. This article will go into more detail about the difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence.
Contributory Negligence Acts as an All-or-Nothing Rule in Maryland
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), contributory negligence remains a viable argument for defending parties to use against plaintiffs. Essentially, this legal doctrine mandates that plaintiffs who contribute any fault to the accident shall not collect damages from the party they are suing. Because of this, contributory negligence acts like an all-or-nothing rule in Maryland that plaintiffs must be aware of when bringing a personal injury claim or lawsuit forward.
While this rule can be strict (even 1 percent of fault strips plaintiffs’ right to compensation), defendants cannot claim contributory negligence arbitrarily either. Opposing parties must be able to prove plaintiffs had prior knowledge of the dangers or risk of their actions, the environment, or the product.
Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia Reestablished This Rule
The contributory negligence doctrine has been in Maryland law since the 1800s; however, the Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia is often cited as the most recent example of why it still rules over personal injury cases.
In 2013, James K. Coleman filed a lawsuit against the Soccer Association of Columbia and related parties after having a goal post fall on him and cause several facial fracture injuries. Despite Coleman’s argument that the goal should have been anchored down to prevent it from falling, the association counterargued that Coleman should have checked whether the goal was anchored before jumping up and gripping the bar. It was ruled that Coleman partially contributed to the cause of his injuries, and he was unable to collect compensation as a result.
Comparative Negligence Allows Plaintiffs to Collect Damages Despite Their Negligence
According to the Legal Information Institute (LII), comparative negligence is a tort rule that allows plaintiffs to collect damages even if they contributed to the cause of the accident. Plaintiffs are assigned a percentage of fault, which may affect their compensation reward at the end of the case. This doctrine can be interpreted in a few ways, so states that abide by comparative negligence laws may have different rules on how damages are distributed.
Pure Comparative Negligence
States that follow “pure” comparative negligence laws abide by the rule that the plaintiff’s percentage of fault reduces their compensation reward, regardless of what their percentage of fault is.
To use an example, let’s say you were in a car accident. If you were found 25 percent at fault for the accident, then any compensation you win would be reduced by 25 percent, meaning you would collect 75 percent of the reward.
What makes this a “pure” rule is that the plaintiff may still collect damages even if they were more at fault. By this doctrine, even if the plaintiff was 99 percent at fault, they may still be able to collect 1 percent of damages as compensation.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Modified comparative negligence laws place a cap on how much fault the plaintiff can hold. Many states generally cap this limit at equal or more than 50 percent. If the plaintiff proves to be more than 50 percent at fault, they may not collect damages.
So, as long as the plaintiff remains below 50 percent at fault, they may collect compensation, but their reward would still be reduced by their percentage of fault. For some brief examples:
- The plaintiff is zero percent at fault: They may collect 100 percent of damages.
- The plaintiff is 49 percent at fault: They may collect 51 percent of damages.
- The plaintiff is 51 percent at fault: They will not collect any damages.
Let the Law Offices of Adam M. Smallow Fight for Your Case
The Law Offices of Adam M. Smallow understands the stakes in personal injury cases in Maryland. We have served clients with the notion that contributory negligence might affect their cases, which is why we go to great lengths to prepare for our clients’ cases. This involves researching relevant laws, finding evidence to support our clients’ claims, and considering multiple defense arguments that might come up.
If you would like an attorney to lead your case, call the Law Offices of Adam M. Smallow at (410) 877-6021 for a free case evaluation. We can review your case and determine how contributory negligence might come into play in your situation. The phone call also serves as a free consultation, which allows our clients to ask the questions they want to be answered before they agree to work with a personal injury lawyer. We serve clients in the Edgewood, Maryland, area. Reach out to us today to get started.