Maryland Court Overrules Legal Doctrine in a Victory for Car Accident Plaintiffs

Even if a legal concept provides for an unfortunate outcome, an experienced car accident attorney will be prepared to argue persuasively in your favor.  In an April 20, 2018 Maryland car accident case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland considered whether the doctrine of imputed negligence would apply to prevent the injured plaintiff from recovering damages from the defendant.  After the lower court entered judgment in favor of the defendant, Maryland’s highest court had the opportunity to decide whether the application of the doctrine should be overruled in the context of owner-passenger car accident cases.

The plaintiff and her husband drove to a restaurant to pick up their carry-out meal.  The plaintiff’s husband was driving the vehicle, which was solely registered in the plaintiff’s name.  The plaintiff was riding in the passenger seat.  The husband parked across two handicapped spots behind the defendant’s truck and went inside the restaurant to get their dinner.  As the plaintiff waited in the car, the defendant backed up his truck out of his parking space into her vehicle.  The plaintiff suffered injuries to her shoulder as a result of the accident.

Under the doctrine of imputed negligence, the owner of a vehicle who allows someone else to drive while remaining inside as a passenger may be held liable for any negligence of the driver.  It is not based on any negligence of the owner-passenger; instead, it is a form of vicarious liability.  Since the plaintiff’s husband was found negligent by parking perpendicular to a handicapped space behind the defendant’s vehicle, his negligence was imputed to the plaintiff.  The plaintiff was therefore barred from recovering damages under the doctrine of contributory negligence.

On appeal, the court reconsidered the applicability of the doctrine of imputed negligence in the current case, noting that courts in Maryland and elsewhere have developed exceptions in order to reach a just and reasonable result in a particular case.  Observing that the original purpose of the doctrine was no longer relevant in modern times, the court criticized the fiction on which it was based, namely that the passenger-owner would actually have control over a motor vehicle she was not driving.

The court ultimately concluded that it was time to discard the obsolete rule as it applied to hold an innocent owner-passenger contributorily negligent and defeat a claim against a negligent third party.  The court therefore held that the doctrine no longer allowed for a presumption that an injured owner-passenger is contributorily negligent because the driver is negligent.  In so doing, the judgment against the plaintiff was reversed, and the case was remanded for the plaintiff to pursue her claim against the defendant.

The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran can provide trustworthy guidance to people hurt in motor vehicle collisions and other accidents.  We have experience representing plaintiffs in car accident claims, slip and fall cases, and other claims arising out of negligence.  To arrange your free consultation, call Foran & Foran today at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Awarded Past Medical Expenses from Car Accident in Maryland Negligence Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published April 13, 2018

Maryland Car Accident Case Involves Issue of Reasonable Care When Facing a Sudden Emergency, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published April 19, 2018

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