When you are hurt by another person’s negligence, you should be able to make a claim for damages. Maryland’s contributory negligence laws, however, could prevent you from recovering compensation for your injuries.
Plaintiff David Wilson understands just how unfair these laws are. He and a co-worker named Eugene Pharr were walking to work at Patuxent Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County. The road he traveled had no sidewalk, so Mr. Wilson and Mr. Pharr would walk on the grass next to the road. Usually, Wilson and Pharr would walk on the north side, where the traffic was coming towards him. On October 15, 2013, though, there was construction blocking the path, so the men had to travel on the south side.
Both men walked along the road side-by-side, with Wilson being closest to the pavement, when Wilson was struck by an oncoming car. The driver of the car that struck Wilson said in court documents that the sun was shining so brightly that he could not see anything at all. The police investigation determined that the tires of the vehicle driven by the defendant, Joseph Blain, never left the pavement, as there were no tire tracks on the grass.
During the trial, the judge instructed the jury, over Wilson’s objection, to remember the following: “The Plaintiff cannot recover damages if the Plaintiff has assumed the risk of injury. A person assumes a risk of injury if that person knows and understands or must have known and understood the risk of an existing danger and voluntarily chooses to encounter that danger.”
Blain was found negligent, and Wilson was not found to have contributed to the accident; however, “Wilson was precluded from recovery for his injuries because the jury found that he assumed the risk of being hit by a car.”
In short, David Wilson was denied compensation because of the risks he took by walking on a roadway that had no sidewalk.
What is the assumption of risk?
Assumption of risk is a legal term used to describe one of the ways Maryland law decides who may and may not recover compensation after an accident:
“Assumption of risk refers to a legal doctrine under which an individual is barred from recovering damages for an injury sustained when he or she voluntarily exposed him or herself to a known danger. Put another way, assumption of risk prohibits a plaintiff from seeking damages on the basis that plaintiff knew of a hazardous condition and willingly exposed him or herself to it. Essentially, the defendant is claiming that the plaintiff knew the risk but took the chance of being injured anyway.”
Assumption of risk often goes hand-in-hand with contributory negligence in terms of barring a plaintiff from recovering damages. With contributory negligence, the plaintiff loses out on recovering compensation if it can be proven that he or she contributed to the accident, or to his or her own injuries, in some way. Assumption of risk bars a plaintiff if he or she voluntarily puts himself or herself at risk of danger.
For example, if you jaywalk across a busy intersection and get hit by a car, you put yourself at risk, and therefore cannot collect damages. In the case of Mr. Blain, the jury found that, by walking on the wrong side of the road, and by walking on a road without sidewalks, he put himself at risk of being hit. Therefore, he was denied damages.
Contributory negligence hurts the injured more
Only four states (Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) and Washington, D.C., still adhere to the legal principle of contributory negligence. Far more common is comparative negligence, which allows the injured person to recover compensation based on his or her share of the blame in the accident. So, a plaintiff who is injured in an accident and found to be 20% at fault would have the potential damages reduced by that amount. The injured of Maryland would be far better served by this type of law than they are by the draconian contributory negligence laws we currently have.
At Plaxen & Adler, P.A. we fight for your right to recover compensation after an injury caused by someone else’s negligence. Our experienced Maryland car accident lawyers fight for you from start to finish. You can schedule a free case evaluation by calling 410.988.4449 or sending us a message through our convenient contact form.