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Maryland Court of Appeals delivers huge victory to CPAs via contributory negligence

Score another one for CPAs.

In a 5-2 vote, Maryland's Court of Appeals has refused to change 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.

The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed against the Soccer Association of Columbia "after a metal goal collapsed when (the plaintiff) playfully grabbed the crossbar three years ago at Lime Kiln Middle School Middle School in Fulton," The Daily Record reports.

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 reasons for the profession's opposition are pretty clear:

  • The contributory negligence standard will keep the lid on insurance premium growth rates.
     
  • It fosters the exercise of due care by all persons.
     
  • As a long respected doctrine, contributory negligence enhances the predictability of litigation, including its costs.
     
  • 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.

So the Court of Appeals' ruling comes as a major victory for the profession. 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.

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 has lots of praise to spread around in the wake of the court's ruling.

"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 PAC, attended CPA Day in Annapolis, and written letters over the years," Hood said. "And thanks to all of our business coalition partners who stayed the course with us. This is a major victory."

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.

Make plans to join us at CPA Day in Annapolis on Jan. 15, where we'll take yet another stand for CPAs and their clients.

The more CPAs who are on hand, the more powerful our voice becomes.

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