The Maryland Horse Council explains “Contributory Negligence” using the recent case: Garvine v. State of Maryland, et. al.

by Jane Seigler, Immediate Past President, Maryland Horse Council

In a recent Maryland case, Garvine v. State of Maryland, et al., a jury decided that the sponsor of a charity trail ride (Oxford Grain and Hay Company) and the State of Maryland (the owner of the land (Fair Hill) on which the trail ride was held) were not liable for injuries sustained when the plaintiff (a participant in the trail ride) and her horse fell into a culvert near the trail. Although the court, on motion for summary judgement, did not discuss the legal doctrine of contributory negligence except to say that under the facts at issue it was a question for the jury to decide, it seems like a good time to provide a little refresher on Maryland Tort Law, and the principles that are applied when someone gets injured in a case involving horses, and subsequently sues.

In such cases, Maryland is one of the few remaining states (the others are Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia as well as the District of Columbia) to apply the venerable “Contributory Negligence” standard to determine whether an injured party can collect damages from a person alleged to have negligently caused the injury. In short, the Contributory Negligence Doctrine states that if a plaintiff has, to even the smallest degree, contributed to his injury through his own negligence, he is completely barred from receiving any damages from the defendant. An example would be a rider who refuses to wear a helmet and sustains a head injury when his horse is spooked by the defendant driving an ATV too fast nearby. The plaintiff’s own negligence in failing to wear a helmet bars him from prevailing in a lawsuit against the defendant, even if the defendant was also negligent in his driving. Maryland courts have consistently upheld the doctrine of Contributory Negligence to bar recovery by obviously negligent plaintiffs. …

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