Maryland Personal Injury Law: Understanding “Contributory Negligence”

In deciding whether to award damages in a personal injury case, courts apply the legal standard of either contributory negligence or comparative negligence. The amount of damages awarded can change significantly, depending upon what standard is applied.

Maryland is one of only five states that still applies contributory negligence to personal injury cases. Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia are the other four. Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that states if the victim of a personal injury claim even slightly contributed to the accident that resulted in their injuries, they will be barred from recovering any amount of compensation from the defendant.

To determine whether a plaintiff was negligent, the court looks to see if the plaintiff behaved as a reasonable person would in the same situation, to preserve their safety. If the court finds that the plaintiff behaved unreasonably, it is likely that no money will be awarded towards making them whole again.

To best illustrate the doctrine of contributory negligence, it is useful to look at a hypothetical: Pam is suing David because David ran a red light, causing him to crash into Pam’s car and injure her. In this scenario, assuming Pam was obeying all traffic laws, the court would find that Pam acted reasonably and therefore will be able to recover compensation from David. But if Pam was texting while driving, the court could likely find that Pam was acting unreasonably by texting while driving because it endangers her and others, and therefore bars her from any recovery if she was injured.

As the example shows, in states like Maryland that apply contributory negligence, any fault at all on the side of the plaintiff can prevent them from receiving any money whatsoever. Typically, when a plaintiff files a negligence claim, the defendant will file a contributory negligence counterclaim, stating in effect that the plaintiff can’t recover at all because they are at least partly responsible for their injuries.

The total bar to recovery makes contributory negligence a serious claim, especially for those who have sustained significant physical injuries that will require extensive or ongoing medical treatment. If a plaintiff is found to have contributed to the negligence involved in the accident, they will be forced to pay for their own damages.

Protecting the rights of Maryland victims

If you have been injured in an accident, or caused someone else to be injured, the experienced legal team at The Law Office of Jack Sturgill can help you recover damages or defend against a claim. For more information on how we help protect the rights of Maryland victims, please visit us online at

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.