The Maryland Court of Appeals just issued its decision in the Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia case regarding whether to abandon the doctrine of contributory negligence (if a plaintiff is the least bit negligent, the plaintiff loses) in favor of the doctrine of comparative negligence (if a plaintiff is negligent, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s negligence). Those on the victims’ side will say that this decision is a refusal to move from an antiquated doctrine to a modern doctrine. Those on the corporate and insurance side will consider this a win. A copy of the decision can be found hrere.
As set forth in the decision, contributory negligence traces its roots to 1809 in England. Almost all states in the U.S. subsequently adopted the doctrine contributory negligence. But over the years, all but four states and the District of Columbia have adopted comparative negligence. Those states that have abandoned the doctrine of contributory negligence have done so on the basis that is not fair to prevent a plaintiff from recovering when the defendant is negligent and the plaintiff is only 1/10th of 1% negligent.
In the Coleman decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals recognized that it had the authority to change from contributory negligence to comparative negligence since it was that court that originally adopted contributory negligence. However, the court said that for such a change to take place the Maryland legislature should make the change.