May 22, 2023
Negligence During a Car Accident Case
A car accident is always a traumatic experience, but it is also disturbingly common in Maryland. Learning a few rules beforehand about how Maryland courts determine the question of fault can help you navigate the main pitfall for the unwary, the problem of contributory negligence. Thinking ahead before a car accident in Maryland could make the difference between recovering your accident losses and recovering nothing at all.
Determination of Fault and Recovery in Maryland
Accident fault determination rules in Maryland are, frankly, old-fashioned and very harsh for recoveries. Maryland is one of only four states that still follow the rule of pure contributory negligence. The others are Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama. The District of Columbia also follows this rule.
Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if an accident victim contributed in any way to the accident or the damage, then the victim could not recover anything for the loss. The contributory negligence rule may seem highly unfair, and in the remaining states of the United States, it has been replaced either by a rule of comparative fault, in which the award is adjusted to reflect the fault of the defendant or, in the case of auto accidents, replaced by a no-fault rule in which each party’s insurance carrier covers the losses of the insured.
Although there has been some effort in Maryland to change the contributory negligence rule, it remains in effect.
What Can Be Done in a Contributory Negligence Case?
If you have been in an accident for which you bear no real fault, there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of a finding of contributory negligence.
First, never admit fault or apologize. This is standard advice for any car accident or any place. In Maryland, it becomes imperative. This could be fatal to a car accident claim in Maryland. Better for the driver and passenger simply to stick to the bare facts of an exchange of addresses and insurance information in the case of the driver.
Second, if you are reasonably certain you are not at fault in the accident, report it to the police or the Motor Vehicle Administration, and place your version of events on record as soon as possible. Only certain accidents must be reported to the police, including accidents where:
- Someone was hurt in the accident;
- If the vehicles cannot be safely moved;
- If any of the drivers seem to be intoxicated;
- If any of the drivers do not have a driver’s license;
- If any of the drivers seek to leave the scene without exchanging insurance information;
- If a public property was damaged in the accident.
Simply because you are not obliged to report the accident does not mean that you should not report the accident. Having a police report or an officer’s investigation can be a powerful tool in negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company.
Third, even though Maryland remains a contributory negligence state, it has adopted some forms of no-fault insurance. In a no-fault auto insurance state, drivers are required to carry Personal Injury Protection policies or PIP. These policies pay without regard to fault. Maryland car insurance companies are required to offer them as additions to the mandatory policy coverage. Despite the extra expense, PIP coverage can ensure that you receive some compensation in the event of a finding of partial fault.
Fourth, because of the harshness of the pure contributory negligence rule, several doctrines have evolved to provide help for plaintiffs who would otherwise be unable to recover losses. The “last clear chance” rule is the most important of these. The rule says that if the party who is mostly at fault had the last opportunity to avoid the accident and failed to do so, the party with a contributory fault can still recover their losses.
This is a very complicated doctrine. If you live in or around Montgomery County, Maryland, and find yourself needing help in negotiating the point with an insurance carrier, you should take counsel from an experienced personal injury attorney in Silver Spring.
Need Help in Determining Fault in an Accident in Maryland?
The Montero Law Group is a firm of experienced Silver Spring lawyers serving the greater Montgomery County area. We are always willing to evaluate auto accident claims and explain the workings of the contributory negligence rule. If you have been in an auto accident, call today for an appointment to discuss your case.