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ATRA Urges Maryland High Court to Respect Legislature’s Longstanding Support for Contributory Negligence

News from the American Tort Reform Association



General Assembly Better Suited to Consider Complicated Changes If and When It Sees Fit

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11, 2012 – Joined by groups representing a variety of employers, physicians, and their insurers, the American Tort Reform Association has submitted a “friend of the court” brief  to Maryland’s highest court, urging it to uphold its own precedent as well as the long expressed will of the state legislature and 165 years of settled law with respect to the doctrine of contributory negligence.

The underlying case to which the brief relates is Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, et al., wherein the plaintiff, “seeking to overturn the long-held position of the General Assembly, has appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland to replace the state’s longstanding contributory negligence doctrine,” explained ATRA president Tiger Joyce.

The trial court decided not to award the plaintiff, a youth soccer coach, any damages because he largely caused his own injury when foolishly hanging on an unused auxiliary soccer goal while impaired by a controlled substance.

Joyce said his group’s brief cites the 1983 precedent, Harrison v. Montgomery County Board of Education, when the high court again upheld contributory negligence and refused to adopt comparative negligence, ruling that “change was a matter for the General Assembly.”  That the legislature had considered such change several times but did not act, the court ruled, is “indicative of an intention to retain the contributory negligence standard.”

“Moreover,” Joyce said in summarizing the brief, “sudden abolition of the contributory negligence doctrine in Maryland would distort and disrupt well-settled statutory and common law that have developed reasonably and fairly to accommodate it.  All of that law would have to be reevaluated and reformed if the high court changes the negligence standard.  So we believe, and our brief makes clear, that the General Assembly, with its capacity to hear from all interested parties and not simply the two parties at odds in Coleman, is the appropriate entity to consider such change if and when it chooses.”       


     The American Tort Reform Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation.  Its members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level.

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