Maryland CPAs Praise Court Ruling on Contributory Negligence

By Jason Bramwell
 
The Maryland Court of Appeals on July 9 voted five to two against changing the state's 166-year-old contributory negligence doctrine, which prevents people from collecting damages in a lawsuit if they contributed to their injuries in any way.
 
According to a blog post on July 10 by Bill Sheridan, chief communications officer for the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA), Maryland CPAs have long opposed attempts to replace contributory negligence with "comparative fault" legislation that would allow plaintiffs who have a disproportionate amount of fault to collect as part of a lawsuit.
 
The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed against the Soccer Association of Columbia by James Coleman, an accomplished soccer player who had volunteered to assist in coaching a team of young soccer players. 
 
According to court documents, during a practice on August 19, 2008, Coleman was retrieving a soccer ball that he had just kicked into a goal when he jumped up and grabbed the goal's crossbar. The goal was not anchored into the ground, and while Coleman was hanging on the crossbar, he fell backward, drawing the weight of the crossbar onto his face.
 
Coleman suffered multiple severe facial fractures that required surgery, and three titanium plates were placed in his face. Coleman filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Howard County in Maryland against the Soccer Association of Columbia, alleging he was injured by the organization's negligence. The Soccer Association of Columbia asserted the defense of contributory negligence.
 
During the ensuing trial, the jury concluded that the Soccer Association of Columbia was negligent and its negligence caused Coleman's injuries. However, the jury also found that Coleman was negligent and that his negligence contributed to his own injuries. Because of the contributory negligence finding, Coleman was denied any recovery.
 
Coleman filed and was granted a petition for a writ of certiorari, which orders a lower court to deliver its record in a case so that the higher court may review it. In his petition, Coleman asked whether the Maryland Court of Appeals should retain the standard of contributory negligence as the common law standard governing negligence cases in Maryland.
 
"Although this court has the authority to change the common law rule of contributory negligence, we decline to abrogate Maryland's long-established common law principle of contributory negligence," the court ruled. 
 
Reasons Why MACPA Backs the Ruling
According to the MACPA blog, Maryland CPAs agreed with the Court of Appeals' ruling for the following four reasons:
  1. The contributory negligence standard will keep the lid on insurance premium growth rates.
  2. It fosters the exercise of due care by all persons.
  3. As a long-respected doctrine, contributory negligence enhances the predictability of litigation, including its costs.
  4. Comparative fault would lead to higher premiums for automobile and homeowners' insurance, higher premiums for businesses' general liability and product liability insurance, and higher premiums for professional liability and errors and omissions insurance.
In short, CPAs believe that the increased cost of conducting business and the decreased productivity associated with the comparative fault standard would, in the long run, lead to a loss of jobs, increased liability, and a deterioration of the economic climate in Maryland, Sheridan wrote in his blog.
 
"Considering that Maryland's General Assembly also has refused to change the doctrine despite repeated attempts to do so, the ruling serves as vindication that contributory negligence is the way to go," Sheridan continued.
 
Writing for the majority opinion, retired Judge John C. Eldridge stated, "For this court to change the common law and abrogate the contributory negligence defense in negligence actions, in the face of the General Assembly's repeated refusal to do so, would be totally inconsistent with the court's long-standing jurisprudence." 
 
MACPA Executive Director Tom Hood called the court's ruling a "major victory."
 
"Thanks to all of our members who have been part of our association leadership, who have worked as legislative key persons, who have supported our [political action committee], attended CPA Day in Annapolis, and written letters over the years," he said. "And thanks to all of our business coalition partners who stayed the course with us."
 
Sheridan concluded his blog by writing, "Indeed. This is the poster child for political activism by CPAs. If you want to protect your profession, your livelihood, and your clients as well, you need to take a political stand. That's how battles like this are won."
 

You may like these other stories...

Regulators struggle with conflicts in credit ratings and auditsThe Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which was created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, released its third annual report on audits of...
Regulatory compliance, risk management and cost-cutting are the big heartburn issues for finance execs in the C-suite. Yet financial planning and analysis—a key antacid—is insufficient.That's just one of the...
A review of Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) guidance on share-based payment transactions found that the 2004 standard achieves its purpose and provides useful information to investors and other users of financial...

Already a member? log in here.

Upcoming CPE Webinars

Aug 26
This webcast will include discussions of recently issued, commonly-applicable Accounting Standards Updates for non-public, non-governmental entities.
Aug 28
Excel spreadsheets are often akin to the American Wild West, where users can input anything they want into any worksheet cell. Excel's Data Validation feature allows you to restrict user inputs to selected choices, but there are many nuances to the feature that often trip users up.
Sep 9
In this session we'll discuss the types of technologies and their uses in a small accounting firm office.
Sep 11
This webcast will include discussions of commonly-applicable Clarified Auditing Standards for audits of non-public, non-governmental entities.