Maryland Court Examines Effect of Plaintiff’s Negligence in Personal Injury Case

To succeed on a Maryland negligence claim, the plaintiff must establish each elements of the cause of action.  In addition, the plaintiff may have to address the theories of defense offered by the defendant.  In an April 17, 2019 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland examined the issue of contributory negligence in a Maryland personal injury action.  The matter was on appeal after a lower court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims on summary judgment.

The plaintiff in the case was injured when he fell into a pothole.  The injury occurred as the plaintiff was walking to a convenience store at night.  In order to avoid debris blocking the sidewalk from a recent fire, the plaintiff crossed into the street.  As he was walking, his left foot went into a pothole and he fell, injuring his finger.  Due to the severity of the injury, the plaintiff’s finger was amputated.

The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the property owner, alleging that it was negligent in failing to divert people from the area of pavement that created a hazardous condition, and in failing to properly maintain the property or warn pedestrians of the dangerous condition.  The defendant argued that the plaintiff was negligent in failing to keep a look out while walking, and as such, could not succeed on his claim against the defendant.

In Maryland, a plaintiff who fails to observe ordinary care for his own safety is considered contributorily negligent.  Contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff bars any recovery, even if the defendant’s negligence was greater.  The issue of contributory negligence is generally left to the jury.  However, a plaintiff may be found contributorily negligent as a matter of law if no reasonable person could find otherwise.  In some cases, a plaintiff who assumes the risk and is subsequently injured may be found contributorily negligent as a matter of law.

On appeal, the court noted that the plaintiff had violated a Maryland statute that required pedestrians to walk on a sidewalk if one was provided, rather than the street.  The court held that the violation itself did not constitute negligence as a matter of law, but that the violation, in combination with other undisputed facts that indicated the plaintiff assumed the risk of danger, was sufficient to grant summary judgment against the plaintiff.  Specifically, the court found that the plaintiff’s decision to walk on a dark street without a flashlight constituted contributory negligence as a matter of law.  The court went on to explain that although there was no evidence that the plaintiff knew of the pothole’s existence, he reasonably should have been aware of the potential for potholes in the street and the danger they presented.  As such, the court affirmed the finding of the plaintiff’s contributory negligence and resulting judgment of the lower court.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland accident attorneys can provide compassionate legal advice to victims of negligence and their family members.  We have represented injured plaintiffs in premises liability cases, medical malpractice actions, auto accident suits, and other matters relating to personal injury law.  Schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable injury lawyers by calling Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.