Maryland Court Considers Doctrine of Last Clear Chance in Car Accident Appeal

In some personal injury cases, a plaintiff may still prevail against a careless driver even if the plaintiff was also partially at fault for the accident. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed this issue when reviewing a negligence claim on appeal in Stevenson v. Kelley (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Dec. 15, 2016). In Stevenson, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit after he was struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant. After a trial, the jury found that the defendant was negligent and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. It also found, however, that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court should have instructed the jury on the doctrine of last clear chance.

In Maryland, the law has adopted the principle of contributory negligence in civil claims. Pursuant to this principle, even if the defendant’s misconduct may have been the primary cause of the injury, a plaintiff cannot recover compensation if the proximate and immediate cause of the harm can be also traced to the plaintiff’s lack of ordinary care and caution. However, there is one exception to this rule. Under the doctrine of last clear chance, the plaintiff may recover if the defendant had a fresh opportunity to avoid the consequences of the plaintiff’s carelessness. The doctrine only applies if the acts of the parties were sequential, and the defendant had a chance to avoid the injury after the plaintiff acted negligently. It is not applicable when the plaintiff’s negligence is the last negligent act, or when the negligence of the parties occurs at the same time.

In Stevenson, the plaintiff was directing traffic around a motor vehicle collision that had occurred on the roadway. The defendant drove on the shoulder of the road to avoid the stopped traffic and take the next exit. The plaintiff attempted to stop the defendant from driving on the shoulder by waving his arms and walking over to his vehicle. Although the defendant slowed down, the plaintiff was struck by the defendant’s bumper on his right knee.

In reviewing the case, the appellate court observed that the defendant was negligent in driving on the shoulder of the road, and the plaintiff was contributorily negligent by walking onto the shoulder to get the defendant’s vehicle to stop. The court did not find, however, that a new or sequential act afforded the defendant a fresh opportunity to avert the consequences of his negligence. Instead, the court concluded that the parties’ respective negligent acts were concurrent, and thus the defendant had no time to avoid hitting the plaintiff. Without evidence to suggest that the defendant had the ability to avoid injuring the plaintiff, the court ruled that there was no basis to submit the last clear chance doctrine to the jury. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the jury verdict.

Auto accidents are often caused by careless drivers, who may be held accountable for their negligence by law. At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, our personal injury team can help individuals pursue compensation for their injuries in court. We handle cases involving auto accidents, medical malpractice, slip and falls, and many other personal injury claims. To discuss your legal issue with one of our dedicated attorneys, contact Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or online and schedule an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Affirms Verdict for Plaintiff in Car Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 15, 2016

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Dismisses Negligence Action Against Adult Who Allowed Underage Drinking at Her Residence, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published September 30, 2015

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