The Maryland Gazette reports that Peter G. Angelos is lobbying the General Assembly’s judicial committees to kill a bill that would allow Maryland to join 46 other states in switching from a standard of contributory negligence to one of comparative fault.
Angelos’ fear, which all Maryland plaintiffs’ lawyers fully share, is that with comparative negligence we could potentially lose joint and several liability, which allows plaintiffs to seek a full recovery from culpable parties who are not 50% responsible. Currently, all defendants who are substantial contributing causes of a plaintiff’s injury are individually fully responsible for the total amount of a jury award to a successful plaintiff. A separate court action later decides how much each defendant pays.
More to the point for Mr. Angelos, his firm handles asbestos cases where some of the responsible parties are bankrupt. Clearly, Mr. Angelos’ concern is his potential failure to gain a full recovery in these asebestos cases.
While there is no guarantee that Maryland would relinquish joint and several liability (only 14 states do not apply joint and several liability to the asbestos cases and 46 states have comparative negligence, which clearly shows they are not mutually exclusive), I suspect Mr. Angelos wants to err on the side of caution in the event that Maryland decides to relinquish some of the benefits that joint and several liability in its current form affords in exchange for the switch to comparative negligence.
But there is no evidence that the supporters of the comparative negligence bill are willing to compromise on the fairness and the efficacy (some studies have said that it may encourage settlement) joint and several liability provides. But apparently, given the asbestos laden nature of Mr. Angelos’ law practice, any risk of losing joint and several liability leads him to oppose a bill that virtually every other personal injury lawyer in the country agrees is the superior rule to protect injury victims. The fact that no other Maryland personal injury lawyer has come out against comparative negligence speaks volumes to the question raised in the article as to what is best for personal injury victims in Maryland.
So now the question becomes whether the Maryland legislature will bend to the money and influence of Peter Angelos and big business in Maryland. We will find out shortly… [Update: they have.]