Can a Plaintiff’s Failure to Use Safety Equipment Be Used Against Them in a Maryland Personal Injury Case?

Maryland is known to have some of the harshest laws when it comes to determining which accident victims are able to recover for their injuries. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence rule, plaintiffs who are found to have even the slightest role in causing an accident or bringing about their own injuries are completely precluded from recovering for their injuries. That being said, there are some situations where Maryland law protects an accident victim’s ability to recover for their injuries.

One of the situations where an accident victim’s “negligence” cannot be used to defeat their claim against a defendant is when, at the time of the injury, the plaintiff was not wearing safety equipment that could potentially have reduced the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, a defendant may attempt to argue that a plaintiff’s failure to wear a motorcycle helmet or seat belt in a Maryland traffic accident was evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence. However, in these circumstances, Maryland courts have held this evidence is inadmissible. A recent state appellate decision helps explain the rationale behind this rule.

In that case, the plaintiff was helping the defendant cut down some trees on the defendant’s property. The agreement between the two men was that the plaintiff would use a chain saw to cut the trees and the defendant would watch out for any potential hazards. However, as the plaintiff was using the chainsaw to take down a tree, a dead limb came loose and fell on his head, resulting in serious injuries.

The defendant presented evidence indicating the plaintiff was not wearing a hardhat when he agreed to help cut down the trees. Importantly, there was no expert testimony or other evidence suggesting that the plaintiff’s accident would have been avoided or that his injuries would have been less severe had he worn a hardhat. However, the defendant argued to the jury that the plaintiff assumed the risk of any injury by deciding not to wear a hardhat. The court then instructed the jury that the plaintiff’s failure to wear a hardhat could be used to help the jury determine whether the plaintiff assumed the risk in the activity, whether he was negligent, and whether he was acting in a reasonably careful manner. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant and the plaintiff appealed.

The court reversed the lower court’s decision to admit the evidence and instruct the jury that it could be used to show the plaintiff’s negligence. The court explained that, while a plaintiff’s negligence can have a bearing on his ability to recover, it is only those acts that cause or contribute to his injuries that are relevant in this determination.

Here, the court noted that there was no indication that the plaintiff could have avoided the accident or lessened his injuries by wearing a hardhat. The court explained quite simply, “the fact that [the plaintiff] was not wearing a hardhat did not cause the tree branch to fall and hit him. Since there was no causal relationship between the plaintiff’s failure to wear a hardhat and his injuries, the court concluded that the evidence should not have been admitted.

Do You Need an Experienced Maryland Personal Injury Attorney?

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident, or any other type of Maryland premises liability accident, contact the dedicated personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we proudly represent injury victims in a wide range of Maryland personal injury cases, as well as cases arising in Virginia and Washington, D.C. To learn more about how we can help you with your situation, call 410-654-3600 to arrange a free consultation today.

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