ATRA Lauds Maryland High Court Decision Upholding ‘Contributory Negligence’ Doctrine
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Darren McKinney (202) 682-0084
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 9, 2013 – The American Tort Reform Association today welcomed a much anticipated Maryland high court decision that upheld, with a 5-2 majority, the doctrine of “contributory negligence,” which has been a settled part of state law for more than 165 years and prevents someone at fault for his own injuries from collecting damages in a lawsuit.
ATRA had submitted an amicus brief in the case, Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, et al., wherein the plaintiff, “sought to overturn the long-held position of the General Assembly, asking Maryland’s Court of Appeals 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 had largely caused his own injury when jumping and hanging on an unused auxiliary soccer goal while impaired by a controlled substance.
“Notwithstanding a colorful dissent invoking extinction of the dinosaurs that was signed on to by retiring Chief Justice Robert Bell,” Joyce continued, “the majority opinion cited, as did ATRA’s earlier brief, the 1983 precedent, Harrison v. Montgomery County Board of Education, when the high court had previously upheld contributory negligence and refused to adopt comparative negligence, ruling that ‘change was a matter for the General Assembly.’ That the legislature has now considered such change 21 times without acting is indicative of its intention to retain the contributory negligence standard.
“The high court majority is right to defer to lawmakers,” added Joyce, “because a sudden abolition of Maryland’s contributory negligence doctrine would distort and disrupt well-settled statutory and common law that has developed reasonably and fairly to accommodate it. All of that law would have to be reevaluated and reformed if the high court had changed the negligence standard. Our brief made clear and we still believe 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. The American Tort Reform Foundation is a sister organization dedicated primarily to research and public education.