Generally, a car accident victim may seek compensation from the negligent driver for injuries. In Maryland, however, a person may be barred from recovering damages if their own negligence contributed to the accident. In a July 29, 2021 case, the Court of Special Appeals considered whether a defendant could assert the defenses of contributory negligence or assumption of the risk to bar recovery in two successive automobile collisions.
The plaintiff in the case was driving in the left lane of the highway when the defendant, who was in the middle lane, attempted to enter the left lane. The defendant did not see the plaintiff’s vehicle, however, and collided with the side of it. The plaintiff stopped on the left shoulder of the highway, with part of his vehicle remaining on the road. The defendant pulled over immediately behind him. As they exchanged information, a third car traveling in the left lane stopped abruptly in order to avoid striking their vehicles. A fourth vehicle rear-ended the third car, causing it to strike the defendant, who was outside her vehicle.
The plaintiff sued the defendant and the driver of the fourth vehicle, and the defendant asserted counterclaims. Neither party disputed that the plaintiff was solely negligent in causing the first accident. With respect to the second accident, a jury found both the plaintiff and defendant negligent. Based on that verdict, the circuit court ruled that the plaintiff was barred from recovering damages for the first accident, due to his contributory negligence in causing the second accident.
There are four elements to a negligence claim in Maryland: (1) duty; (2) breach; (3) injury; and (4) proximate cause. The appeals court began their review by considering the two aspects of causation: causation-in-fact and legal causation. Causation-in-fact is determined using either the “but for” test (when a single negligent act is at issue), or the substantial factor test (when two or more independent negligent acts may have contributed to the injury). Legal causation generally involves a determination of whether the injuries were a foreseeable result of the negligent conduct.
After reviewing the record, the appeals court concluded that the two accidents were caused by separate acts of negligence. The plaintiff’s act of sideswiping the defendant’s vehicle was the sole cause of the first accident, while the actions of both the defendant and plaintiff in failing to move their vehicles completely off the roadway were substantial factors in causing the second collision. The court therefore considered them as two separate collisions.
The court went on to find that the plaintiff’s contributory negligence in the second accident had no bearing on the first accident, and that the defendant could not raise it has a defense. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgement in favor of the defendant and remanded for further proceedings on the issue of his damages.
At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland injury lawyers can provide legal guidance after an accident. We represent people who have been injured as a result of auto accidents, medical malpractice, slip and falls, and other types of negligence. Schedule a free consultation by calling our office at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.