Maryland Court Upholds Contributory Negligence

As previously reported by Conduit Street, the Maryland Court of Appeals has been considering a case that could have undone the State’s longstanding common law contributory negligence liability standard and move the State to a comparative negligence (also referred to as a comparative fault) standard.  Such a change could have had potentially significant negative consequences for county governments.  The Court released its long-awaited 5-2 decision today and upheld prior precedent asserting that changing the contributory negligence standard is more properly addressed by the Maryland General Assembly.  From the opinion:

Thirty years ago, in Harrison v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 295 Md. 442, 444, 456 A.2d 894 (1983), this Court issued a writ of certiorari to decide “whether the common law doctrine of contributory negligence should be judicially abrogated in Maryland and the doctrine of comparative negligence adopted in its place as the rule governing trial of negligence actions in this State.” In a comprehensive opinion by then Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, the Court in Harrison, 295 Md. at 463, 456 A.2d at 905, declined to abandon the doctrine of contributory negligence in favor of comparative negligence, pointing out that such change “involves fundamental and basic public policy considerations properly to be addressed by the legislature.”

The petitioner in the case at bar presents the same issue that was presented in Harrison, namely whether this Court should change the common law and abrogate the defense of contributory negligence in certain types of tort actions. After reviewing the issue again, we shall arrive at the same conclusion that the Court reached in Harrison.

A July 9 Daily Record article added these further details:

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.  …

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