Soccer Injury Lawsuit Could Have Huge Implications: Maryland Residents Could Finally Gain Rights to Sue for Damages
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on September 19th, 2012
After a 20-year-old man suffered serious facial injuries while warming up for a league soccer game in Maryland in 2008, he was not able to recover damages for his injuries. That’s because he lived in Maryland, one of only four states and the District of Columbia, where a plaintiff cannot recover any monetary damages at all if a judge or jury finds that they have contributed to their accident by as little as 1 percent.
One percent, that’s all. With such a tiny sliver of blame on victims of accidents, Maryland juries and judges regularly have blocked victims from receiving deserved damages in cases from car accidents to slip and fall cases to medical malpractice cases and everything in between. It’s been this way for more than 165 years in Maryland because of a legal precedent known as “contributory negligence,” where a victim who is found to contribute to their injuries in any amount is then barred from receiving a damage award.
Across the United States, only Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia also have such contributory negligence laws on their books. It’s an outdated, unfair, costly burden on victims who can’t receive damages for injuries that they sustain, even when they are partly to blame.
But in Maryland, the law is being reviewed by the state Court of Appeals after the victim in the soccer injury case, Kyle Coleman, won his claim against the group that held the practice, the Soccer Association of Columbia, then failed to receive damages because the jury found that he contributed to his injuries, according to a story in The Baltimore Sun. Coleman now has three titanium plates in his head as a result of his injuries, which happened as he took a few warm-up shots into an empty goal at the practice, according to The Sun. “He grabbed the goal’s crossbar as he passed underneath to retrieve a ball, and it fell over,” crushing bones around one of his eyes.
A jury ruled in Coleman’s favor, determining that the soccer association had not properly secured the goal, but because he grabbed the top bar and pulled himself up, he had contributed to his own injuries, the paper reported. Under Maryland law, he was prevented from receiving damages in the case, despite the negligence of the soccer association in securing and maintaining its equipment.
If this accident had happened in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, California or any of the other states that permit damage awards even when the victim contributed to the event, Coleman would have received money for his injuries to help him cope with his recovery, pain and suffering and financial losses. Those states allow judges and juries to assess the cases to determine how much a victim contributed to his own injuries, then deduct that amount from a damage award. To still receive an award, a victim must be found to contribute less than 50 percent to the accident in those 46 states.
In most of the U.S., this ability to sue and recover damages even if you have contributed to the accident in some way is a pillar of our system of law, says Larry Greenberg, an attorney with Greenberg Law Offices in Baltimore.
“In Maryland, if a judge or jury finds any amount of fault against the plaintiff, that person has no right to be compensated for the damages they suffered in the occurrence,” says Greenberg. “If a judge or jury finds you partially responsible, you are done. In other states, juries give awards and then deduct a percentage for your own negligence, giving you balance in the legal system.”
The Coleman soccer case could finally change this system in Maryland, says Greenberg, which would be the right thing to do for residents.
“For years we’ve been trying, through the Maryland Association for Justice and other groups, to look for cases where this issue could be brought before a jury” to be able to change this unfair rule, he says. “We tried through the state legislature to change it and they wanted nothing to do with it.”
A state Court of Appeals panel looked at the issue earlier and found that the existing law could be challenged through the courts, he says. Legal arguments were conducted before the Court of Appeals on Sept. 10 and now all sides are waiting for the court’s decision. No deadline has been announced for the ruling.
“The implications are that it could give plaintiffs more access to the courts in Maryland” if the appeals court rules in favor of changing the law, says Greenberg. “It would give them the rights that would address the harm caused to them for injuries that they were never able to get justice for in the past. Nobody’s perfect and other states have seen fit to recognize that concept,” that even victims can contribute to their own injuries.
“Contributory negligence is a concept of the past,” says Greenberg. “It means you get nothing. You’re perfect or you’re done and that’s not the way life is.”
The case in Maryland “has drawn national attention, as Maryland’s unusual legal standard meets its first judicial test in decades,” according to The Sun.
“The standard was adopted in Maryland in an 1847 case called Irwin v. Spriggs,” The Sun reported. “The plaintiff fell through an opening by a cellar window, but the defendant successfully argued that had the plaintiff been more careful, he would not have been hurt, according to a review of the case for the state legislature.”
It’s time for Maryland to change this unfair and outdated law so that victims can finally have their rights to actually receive damages for serious injuries caused in large part by others. In 46 other states around the nation, that’s the law of the land.
It’s about time that Maryland joins the modern era of legal fairness, for all of its citizens.
We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in an accident anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who are killed in serious accidents as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.
Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.
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