Maryland Court Considers Plaintiff’s Contributory Negligence in Motor Vehicle Accident Case

Maryland law holds every person responsible for their negligent actions, which may lead to harsh results for those who have been injured in Maryland car accidents.  In an October 5, 2017 case, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed an injury claim arising out of a head-on motor vehicle accident.  The plaintiff in the case was driving southbound when the defendant attempted to make a left turn.  The defendant’s vehicle struck the plaintiff’s vehicle on the driver’s side, causing it to flip.  The plaintiff suffered significant injuries in the accident, including two broken legs.  He brought suit against the driver of the other vehicle, alleging negligence.

At trial, the primary issue for the jury was whether the plaintiff’s speed contributed to the accident.  The speed limit on the road was 40 miles per hour.  The plaintiff testified that he believed he was driving 45 miles per hour, but he admitted that he typically drove with the flow of traffic and that he was not paying attention to his speedometer.

The defendant contended that the plaintiff’s actual speed was much higher and supported his argument with an accident reconstruction engineer.  The expert presented a series of calculations that indicated the plaintiff was likely traveling at a rate of at least 60 miles per hour.  The expert explained that if the plaintiff had been traveling at the speed limit, the defendant would have cleared the intersection before the plaintiff reached the point of collision.  The jury ultimately returned a verdict finding that the defendant was negligent but also finding that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent and was therefore barred from recovery.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the judge erred by submitting the issue of contributory negligence to the jury.  In Maryland, a plaintiff is completely barred from recovery if he or she is found to have been contributorily negligent.  Contributory negligence is defined as a breach of the duty to observe ordinary care for one’s own safety, which proximately causes an accident.  In the current case, therefore, the plaintiff’s own negligence as to his excessive speed, alone, would not necessarily bar his right to recovery, unless the defendant also established that the excessive speed was a direct and proximate cause of the accident.

The appeals court explained that when legally sufficient evidence of a party’s negligence exists, proximate causation is typically a question to be determined by a jury.  Accordingly, as long as the defendant in the case presented evidence amounting to more than just conjecture that the plaintiff’s speed proximately contributed to the car accident, the question of the plaintiff’s contributory negligence was properly submitted to the jury.  The appeals court ultimately ruled that, based on the evidence provided by the defendant’s expert witness and testimony from the parties, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to consider the plaintiff’s negligence and whether it was a proximate cause of the accident.  As a result, the verdict was affirmed.

Some personal injury claims can be difficult to prove, but hiring an experienced attorney to represent you may help improve the outcome of your case.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland attorneys pursue compensation for victims of car accidents, slip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, and other incidents caused by negligence.  To discuss your case with a skilled member of our litigation team, contact our office by phone at (301) 441-2022 or online and schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Bicyclist Killed by Tractor Trailer, Wife Pursues Appeal in Wrongful Death Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published April 25, 2017

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Sides with Plaintiff Regarding Arbitration of Wrongful Death Claims, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 11, 2016

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