If you live in a comparative negligence state, which is every state except Maryland, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, you might be able to.
Comparative negligence refers to a system of apportioning damages between negligent parties based upon their relative shares of fault. Under this system, a plaintiff’s negligence will not prevent recovery, but it will reduce the plaintiff’s recoverable damages based upon their relative percentage of fault.
States employ one of four basic systems for allocating fault and damages in a personal injury case:
- Pure contributory negligence – If any negligent conduct by the injured party contributed to his injury, he can recover no damages, even if he is only one percent at fault.
- Pure comparative fault – The proportionate shares of fault between the negligent parties is compared, and the damages the plaintiff can recover is reduced based on their relative percentage of fault. This system allows an injured party to recover even if he was 99 percent at fault, although the recovery will be reduced.
- Modified comparative fault – Each party is held responsible for the degree of their own fault, unless the plaintiff negligence reaches a certain level (50 or 51 percent, depending on the state), and then the plaintiff is not eligible for any damages.
- Slight/gross negligence comparative fault – The fault and the plaintiff is only compared if the plaintiff’s negligence is slight and the defendant’s negligence is gross. Otherwise, the plaintiff is barred from recovery.
Maryland still recognizes the pure contributory negligence rule. In Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, a case about a volunteer soccer coach injured during a team practice, the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed that while it had the power to adopt comparative negligence as the law in Maryland, it declined to do so on July 9, 2013, instead upholding the state’s longstanding common law doctrine of contributory negligence.