U.S. Court of Appeals Affirms Judgment in Favor of Defendant in Maryland Contributory Negligence Case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reached a decision this year regarding Maryland’s contributory negligence bar to recovery in any personal injury action.

In the case, Saravia v. Chen, U.S. Ct. App., 4th Cir. (2013), the plaintiffs filed a negligence and wrongful death action following a fatal car accident. At trial, the district court granted the summary motion of defendants (a bus driver and his employer), concluding that the decedent’s contributory negligence barred any recovery.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on several bases.

Although this was a federal action, the relevant substantive law was that of Maryland, which bars recovery when the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Contributory negligence occurs when the plaintiff does something that a person of ordinary caution would not have done. When an action or decision clearly contributed to the accident, contributory negligence is established, and is thus not a jury issue.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s finding that the decedent was contributorily negligent by getting out of his truck, and walking into an active highway lane at night, in a poorly lit area. Further, it was this lack of regard for his own safety that was the proximate cause of the decedent’s accident.

Regarding the plaintiff’s final argument that the last clear doctrine should have applied, the appellate court found that the doctrine did not apply because the decedent’s negligence was concurrent with any negligence on behalf of the defendant, and that therefore there was no fresh opportunity for the defendant to have avoided the accident that resulted.

Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s decision of granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

This blog has recently covered the decision by Maryland’s Highest Court to uphold the Contributory Negligence rule, despite its often unfair result, and leaving the opportunity to reform the rule up to the legislature. Maryland is one of just four states that still follows the rule it originally adopted in 1847.

What this means for plaintiffs is that if you are found to have been even 1% responsible for causing an accident, you may be barred from recovering completely. However, despite the appellate court’s finding that the contributory negligence was not an issue for the jury in this case, that is not always true. Your Maryland Car Accident Attorney may be able to successfully argue that there was no clear decisive action or decision on your part.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a car accident in Maryland, contact the experienced car accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers immediately. We will work hard to secure you and your family the compensation that you deserve, so that you can focus on getting your life back in order. If you believe that your car accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, please contact us today by calling 1-800-654-1949, or through our website, in order to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Appeal Planned in $1 Million Judgment Stemming from Seeder-Planter Car Collision Personal Injury Lawsuit, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 11, 2013
Maryland Appeals Court Affirms Exclusion of Testimony Regarding Defendant’s Conduct Following Car Accident, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 4, 2013

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