Maryland Retains Contributory Negligence

In an interesting decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided to retain the traditional doctrine of contributory rather than comparative fault.  See Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, No. 9-2012 (Md. July 9, 2013). 

Several decades ago, the court in Harrison v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 295 Md. 442, 444, 456 A.2d 894 (1983), addressed whether the common law doctrine of contributory negligence should be judicially abrogated in Maryland and the doctrine of comparative negligence adopted in its place.  The court declined to abandon the doctrine of contributory negligence in favor of comparative negligence, pointing out that such change “involves fundamental and basic public policy considerations properly to be addressed by the legislature.”

In Coleman, the petitioner presented the same issue that was presented in Harrison, namely whether the court should change the common law and abrogate the defense of contributory negligence in certain types of tort actions. After reviewing the issue again, the court arrived at the same conclusion: that, although the court had the authority to change the common law rule of contributory negligence, it would decline to abrogate Maryland’s long-established common law principle of contributory negligence.

The opinion provides an interesting dialog as to which branch of government should decide such a substantial change to the tort law.  The majority and concurring opinions say that the issue of adoption of comparative fault is really one for the legislature to decide. Note my colleagues filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the American Tort Reform Association, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, and others, arguing for continued application of the contributory negligence doctrine.

 

State Supreme Court to Consider Comparative Negligence Doctrine

Here's a case to watch, especially for those with tort cases in Maryland. Coleman v. Soccer Assoc. of Columbia, et al. (Md., Sept. Term 2012, No. 9). The Court of Appeals of Maryland is considering whether to replace the longstanding contributory negligence doctrine with a comparative fault scheme.

A number of organizations, including the American Tort Reform Association and the Chamber of Commerce, have weighed in with an amicus brief to the Maryland supreme court.  These amici note that such a fundamental change ought to be a decision of the legislature; warn of the ripple effect of such a change on a number of other state statutes that utilize the concept of contributory negligence, and on the many related state common law doctrines such as last clear chance, assumption of the risk, joint and several liability, etc.