Defendant backed his truck out of a restaurant parking space and struck plaintiff’s car, which was stopped in a travel lane. Plaintiff sued defendant to recover for damage to her car and for her own personal injuries. In return, defendant argued that the contributory negligence of plaintiff’s husband—by parking the car in the travel lane—should be imputed to plaintiff herself. The trial court applied the doctrines of imputed negligence and contributory negligence and barred plaintiff’s recovery.
In an imputed negligence jurisdiction, a presumption exists that an injured owner-passenger of a vehicle is contributorily negligent if that owner-passenger had operational control over a negligent permissible driver.
Worsley (plaintiff) and her husband drove to a restaurant to pick up a take-out order. While Worsley’s husband retrieved the order, he left the car in a travel lane with Worsley in the passenger seat. Worsley’s car was perpendicular to Mintiens’ (defendant) parking space. Mintiens backed his truck out of the parking space and struck Worsley’s car. Worsley, the owner of the car, sued Mintiens to recover for the damage to the passenger side and for her own personal injuries. In return, Mintiens argued that plaintiff’s husband was contributorily negligent for leaving plaintiff’s car in the travel lane of the restaurant parking lot. Therefore, the negligence of Worsley’s husband should be imputed to Worsley herself since she was the owner of the vehicle. The trial court applied the doctrines of imputed negligence and contributory negligence and entered a judgment in favor of defendant. The finding of contributory negligence barred Worsley’s recovery. Worsley appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Whether a an injured vehicle owner-passenger may be presumed contributorily negligent because the driver of the vehicle is negligent?
No, this court dispenses with the presumption that an owner-passenger who was injured in a car accident is responsible for any negligence of the driver of the car. The doctrine of imputed negligence can no longer be used to establish a defense of contributory negligence in this state. The judgment of the circuit court is vacated and the case is remanded.
In the context of automobile torts, the doctrine of imputed negligence is premised solely on the car owner’s ownership and presence at the time of the accident. In an imputed negligence jurisdiction, the negligence of a permissive driver (like Worsley’s husband) could be attributed to an owner-passenger (like Worsley) if there was a showing that the owner-passenger was not asleep or otherwise incapable of exercising control over the car. The second and third Restatements of Torts have condoned the application of the imputed negligence doctrine in establishing a defense of contributory negligence. Likewise, several states have either limited or abrogated the doctrine of imputed negligence in the context of automobile torts. Maryland now does the same by prohibiting the presumption that an injured owner of a car is contributorily negligent just because the driver of his or her car is negligent.