Maryland lawmaker hopes to prevent change making lawsuits easier

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

A Maryland lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that would prevent the state's highest court from changing the rules about who can sue following an accident.

Maryland is one of four states and the District that prevents someone from winning a lawsuit if he is partially at fault, a standard known as contributory negligence. A case before the Maryland Court of Appeals could change the requirement, making it easier for accident victims to sue -- a change that victim advocates are cheering on.

But state Del. Ben Kramer, D-Silver Spring, warns that easing the requirements would bring an onslaught of litigation and prompt an increase in insurance premiums. It would affect businesses, doctors, local jurisdictions and individuals, he said.

The Howard County case before the Court of Appeals centers around Kyle Coleman, who had three titanium plates put in his head after the bar from a soccer goal fell on his face in 2008 and crushed the bones around his eye. Coleman sued the Soccer Association of Columbia, which was running the soccer practice where the incident occurred. However, the organization argued that since Coleman was swinging from the goal when it fell -- which the association said it warns players against doing -- and since Coleman had smoked marijuana earlier that day, he contributed to the accident and is not eligible to receive damages.

Though the Court of Appeals has not issued a ruling in the case, Kramer said the court "has been sending out signals for a couple of years" that it plans to change the standard, and he wants to be prepared.

Backed by business groups

and the Maryland Association of Counties, Kramer plans in January to introduce a bill that would maintain the current legal standards if the court decides to act.

Maryland's existing standard -- the one Kramer wants to keep -- "calls for self-responsibility," said Carville Collins, a Baltimore lawyer who represented the Maryland Chamber of Commerce when the organization filed a brief with the Court of Appeals.

But Bruce Plaxen, an attorney who represented Coleman and chairman of the Maryland Association for Justice Political Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of causes affecting attorneys, called contributory negligence unfair.

He pointed to an old case in which a man was jogging on the shoulder of the road when a truck swerved and crippled him. The truck driver was sleep-deprived, said Plaxen, but because the jogger was jogging with traffic, rather than against it as the law requires, he was considered to have been partially at fault and lost the case.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner