Contributory negligence standard survives challenge in top court

Long before the Civil War, the high court of Maryland instituted the doctrine of contributory negligence. On Tuesday, the current high court of Maryland said that if anyone is going to change that rule – which bars any chance of recovering damages in a lawsuit if the victim in any way, to any degree, contributed to his or her own injury – the decision must come from the legislature.

In its first look at the issue in 30 years, the Court of Appeals voted 5-2 not to change the common-law doctrine, citing the 166-year-old precedent as well as numerous failed attempts by the General Assembly to change the rule in recent years, as all but a handful of other jurisdictions have moved to a comparative fault standard.

“For this Court to change the common law and abrogate the contributory negligence defense in negligence actions, in the face of the General Assembly’s repeated refusal to do so, would be totally inconsistent with the Court’s long-standing jurisprudence,” retired Judge John C. Eldridge wrote for the majority.

The decision is a loss for James Coleman, who sued the Soccer Association of Columbia after a metal goal collapsed when he playfully grabbed the crossbar three years ago at Lime Kiln Middle School Middle School in Fulton.

In October 2011, a Howard County Circuit Court jury found the association was negligent for failing to maintain the goal. But the jury declined to award damages because it found that Coleman, too, was negligent.

Coleman, through his attorney, appealed to the intermediate Court of Special Appeals but also filed a direct petition to the Court of Appeals. The top court took the case and heard argument last September.

Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. and former Chief Judge Robert M. Bell dissented.

The case is James Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, No. 9, Sept. Term 2012.

Daily Record reporter Steve Lash contributed to this story.

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