Maryland Could Abandon 165 Years of Personal Injury Doctrine

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Back in 1847, a Maryland man was injured falling through “an opening by a cellar window.” He sued for damages. The defendant argued that the plaintiff, in his carelessness, had contributed in some way to his own accident. The argument succeeded, the plaintiff was awarded no money, and Maryland courts have been operating under the doctrine of contributory negligence ever since.

But a young man who took a soccer goal crossbar to the face in Howard County could change all that. Kyle Coleman, while at a soccer practice in Fulton, grabbed the crossbar as he entered the goal to pick up a ball, and the goal collapsed onto his face, resulting in an injury that required the addition of three titanium plates in his skull. He sued the soccer association that ran the practice, but because an action of his — grabbing the crossbar — contributed at all to his accident he is unable to recover any money.

Lawyers on both sides of the case are presenting arguments before the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding the contributory negligence doctrine. If Coleman’s lawyer successfully argues that Maryland should switch to a system which awards damages proportional to both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s role in the injury, not only would the athlete have an opportunity to recover money in his suit, but other accidents (such as the train derailment in Ellicott City that killed two college students sitting on the railroad bridge) would suddenly be susceptible to payouts.



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