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Can I recover damages if my accident was partly my fault?

If you are a Maryland resident who was injured in an accident, you may be thinking about suing the person you believe caused your accident. You should be aware, however, that as reported by the Insurance Journal, if you were in any way responsible for the accident, you will not be able to recover damages from anyone else, even if he or she was more at fault than you were.

Maryland is one of only four states that have a contributory negligence law. Under contributory negligence, if you have an accident and are determined to have been even slightly responsible for it and therefore for your own injuries, you cannot recover any damages whatsoever.

Contributory negligence vs. comparative fault

All other states have gone to a comparative fault standard when determining who is allowed to recover what in a personal injury lawsuit. Under comparative fault, you can recover damages even if you were partially at fault. The amount of your damages, however, would be decreased by whatever percentage of fault the jury determines you were responsible for.

What this difference means for Maryland residents is that if, for instance, you were talking on your cellphone while driving or texting while walking down a sidewalk, you must pay the costs associated with any injuries you receive as the result of a car crash or a slip-and-fall accident. You cannot recover damages from the other driver, even if he or she was drunk, or from the property owner, even if the sidewalk was cracked or covered with snow and ice.

“Dinosaur” law

The Maryland Court of Appeals most recently upheld Maryland’s longstanding contributory negligence law in 2013 by a 5-2 decision. Judge Glenn Harrell, one of the dissenters, wrote in his opinion that the law is a dinosaur and that “[W]ith the force of a modern asteroid strike, this court should render. . .this dinosaur extinct.”

That is not likely to happen, however, and the Maryland Legislature has consistently refusal to rescind the law. The lesson to be learned: be very careful when you are in Maryland. The contributory negligence dinosaur still roams free. This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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