The Basics of Maryland’s Contributory Negligence Laws in Auto Collisions

Negligence is a legal term that also generally means ”carelessness” or “recklessness.” Negligence occurs when someone acts in a way that is not consistent with how a reasonable person would act in a similar situation. Negligence in the car accident context usually means the same thing as “fault.” Common examples of negligence in a car accident case include:

  • Driving over the speed limit
  • Running a stop sign or traffic light
  • Following another vehicle too closely
  • Road rage that results in reckless driving
  • Not paying attention to the road or hazards around you

In many car accident cases, there is more than one person at fault for the crash. When that occurs, you need some way to determine who should be legally responsible for the damages associated with the collision. Maryland uses the concept of contributory negligence to address these circumstances.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Maryland is one of just five states that uses contributory negligence instead of comparative negligence. Most states choose not to use this standard because it is very harsh toward victims.

Under Maryland’s version of contributory negligence, if you are even slightly at fault for the accident, then you cannot recover any damages through an insurance company or at trial. In other states, if you contribute to the accident, your damages will be decreased by your percentage of fault, but you can still go forward with your case. In Maryland, you do not have that option.

Last Clear Chance Doctrine

To avoid some of the harshness of Maryland’s contributory negligence rules, the state adopted the “last clear chance” doctrine in 1868. Under that rule, a defendant may still be legally responsible for damages, even if the victim contributed to the accident if certain conditions are met. Specifically, the defendant must have had the last opportunity to avoid the collision just before it occurred.

For example, imagine that you are going north through an intersection. You have a yield sign, but you failed to yield. Another car is going east into the intersection at the same time. They have a stop sign, but they also run the stop sign and hit your vehicle. Although you contributed to the accident by failing to yield, the other car had the last opportunity to avoid the collision. They acted negligently, and it was last in time, which triggers the last clear chance doctrine—and legal liability.

Although Maryland’s negligence laws are harsh, the last clear chance doctrine does help victims in many situations. If you have been injured in an accident, it is a good idea to talk to a Maryland car accident and personal injury lawyer, even if you think you may have contributed to the crash. Jack R. Sturgill, Attorney at Law, would be happy to review your case with you. Contact us for more information or to schedule appointment.

Written by Law Office of Jack R. Sturgill

Jack R. Sturgill, the Owner and CEO of Jack’s Law, has practiced civil litigation for over 40 years. As an experienced litigator and real estate, estate planning, and estate administration law attorney in Maryland, he focuses his practice on legal matters pertaining to real estate, land use, eminent domain and condemnation, business and corporate law, estate planning, estate administration, personal injury, and administrative law.