Apportioning Fault in Maryland Strict Liability Cases

In Maryland injury cases based on a claim of strict liability, a defendant may claim that the plaintiff was also at fault for their injuries, raising the issue of contributory negligence. Maryland is among a small minority of states that follow the doctrine of contributory negligence, meaning that a plaintiff cannot recover if he is found to be even partially at fault.

What Is Maryland's Contributory Negligence Law?

Under Maryland law, contributory negligence of the consumer is not a defense in strict liability cases if the consumer’s negligence involves solely a failure to discover the product’s defect or to protect themselves from the possibility of such a defect. However, if the consumer’s contributory negligence concerns voluntarily and unreasonably confronting a known danger, that is a defense to strict liability.

Many other states apply the doctrine of comparative negligence, generally meaning that a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by his proportion of fault. In that case, a plaintiff could have his damages reduced by his portion of fault, even if a strict liability case. In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court upheld such an award. In that case, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a crash after the front brake on his motorcycle failed. He sued Suzuki, the manufacturer and designer of the motorcycle, claiming that his injuries were caused by a design defect in the front master brake cylinder. Suzuki had issued a recall warning about a safety defect in the front brake master cylinder, and reportedly had known about the issue since well before the plaintiff’s accident. However, the plaintiff failed to replace the brake fluid every two years, and he had not done so for eight years.

The jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and concluded the plaintiff was 49% at fault and that the defendants were 51% at fault. The court apportioned damages according to the fault of the parties, reducing the plaintiff’s damages by 49%. The plaintiff argued that the damages should not have been reduced based on a statute allowing for the apportionment of damages because it was a strict liability case. The state’s supreme court held that under the state’s statute, the court was required to apportion damages according to fault, as determined by the jury. The court reasoned that although it might be difficult to calculate comparative negligence when the case is based on strict liability, the jury could make that determination. Accordingly, the court upheld the court’s award.

Contact a Maryland Accident Attorney for Immediate Assistance with Your Claim

Anyone who has been involved in a serious Maryland car crash understands the devastating impact it can have on one’s life. The Maryland accidents attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have decades of combined experience and work hard to get their clients’ lives back on track. They will guide clients through the legal process, from the investigation to negotiations and through trial, if necessary. We will not recover unless the client wins. To set up a free consultation, call Lebowitz & Mzhen at (410) 654-3600 or toll-free at (800) 654-1949, or you can contact us online.

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