In an opinion issued on July 6, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury claim arising out of an accident between an automobile and a pedestrian. The plaintiff was attempting to cross the street when she was struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant. The plaintiff brought a negligence claim against the defendant, which proceeded to trial. Ultimately, the jury found that the defendant was negligent, but it also found that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, thereby precluding any recovery of damages. The plaintiff subsequently appealed to the higher court.
Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, a plaintiff who fails to exercise ordinary care for his or her own safety and thus contributes proximately to his or her injury is barred from all recovery, regardless of the defendant’s primary negligence. Unfortunately for plaintiffs, it is an all-or-nothing doctrine in Maryland. As a result, if contributory negligence is found on the part of the plaintiff, it prevents the plaintiff from recovering any damages for his or her injuries, even if the defendant was also found negligent. The burden of proving contributory negligence is on the defendant, and the issue is a question of fact for the jury to resolve.
In the case, the defendant had stopped at a stop sign and started to make a left turn, when she struck the plaintiff in the middle of the crosswalk. The defendant testified that she didn’t see the plaintiff until the last moment, when she slammed on her brakes. Ordinarily, a pedestrian crossing a street within a designated crosswalk in Maryland has the right-of-way over oncoming traffic, and the driver of an approaching vehicle must come to a stop when approaching a pedestrian in a cross-walk. The pedestrian’s right-of-way, however, is not absolute, and in some circumstances, a pedestrian may be found to be contributorily negligent. In crossing a street, a pedestrian has a duty to look out for vehicles and protect herself from danger. Although there is no law that she must stop until a vehicle has passed, whether she was negligent in proceeding is a question for the jury.