Argument: December 4, 2017
Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-16-012948
Barbera, C.J. Greene Adkins McDonald Hotten Getty, Battaglia,
Lynne A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.
the "controversial doctrine of imputed negligence,
" the negligence of one individual may be
imputed to another who was otherwise without fault. In the
realm of automobile torts, the doctrine has been applied to
ascribe the negligence of a permissive driver of a car to the
owner of the car if the driver operates the car negligently
while the owner is a passenger. In that context, the doctrine
of imputed negligence is based on the fiction that the owner
is able to control the actions of the driver and therefore is
responsible for any misstep of the driver.
past, the doctrine functioned to ensure that individuals
injured in automobile accidents would be able to obtain
compensation from the party most likely to be financially
responsible - the car's owner. However, developments in
the law and in insurance coverage make reliance on the
fiction of owner control less compelling. Moreover, in
situations where an owner-passenger is injured and innocent
of any negligence, application of the doctrine, in
conjunction with a defense of contributory negligence, can
have the perverse effect of foreclosing compensation to an
injured party who was not personally at fault. As a result,
courts in many states have abrogated or limited the doctrine
of imputed negligence. This case presents an opportunity for
us to do the same.
case grew out of an accident in a restaurant parking lot when
Respondent Jeffrey Mintiens backed his truck out of a parking
space and struck a car in which Petitioner Victoria Worsley
("Ms. Worsley") was seated. Ms. Worsley's
husband had driven the couple to the restaurant
and left the car and his wife stopped in a travel lane
perpendicular to Mr. Mintiens' parking space while he
retrieved the couple's take-out order from the
Worsley filed suit against Mr. Mintiens in the District Court
of Maryland sitting in Baltimore County, alleging that Mr.
Mintiens was negligent and seeking various damages. At trial,
Mr. Mintiens raised the defense of contributory negligence.
The District Court concluded that Ms. Worsley's husband
had himself been negligent. It also concluded that his
negligence should be imputed to Ms. Worsley under the imputed
negligence doctrine because, though a passenger, she was the
sole owner of the car at the time of the accident.
Accordingly, the District Court entered a judgment in favor
of Mr. Mintiens. In an on-the-record appeal, the Circuit
Court for Baltimore County affirmed that decision.
granted Ms. Worsley's petition for a writ of
certiorari to consider whether the doctrine of
imputed negligence applies in these circumstances. For the
reasons set forth in this opinion, we hold that it does not.
following facts are derived from the testimony at trial
before the District Court. Although some facts are disputed -
and we indicate where below - those relevant to the issue
before us are largely uncontested.
evening of October 23, 2015, Ms. Worsley and her husband
drove to the Pappas Restaurant in Parkville, Maryland to pick
up a take-out dinner. Ms. Worsley's husband drove the car
- a four-door sedan of which Ms. Worsley was the sole
owner - while she rode in the front
passenger's seat. They arrived at the restaurant sometime
shortly before 6:30 p.m.
restaurant, there was a window facing the parking lot where
customers could pick up take-out orders. Adjacent to this
window were at least two handicapped parking spaces. Ms.
Worsley's husband stopped the car perpendicular to the
handicapped parking spaces, placed it in park, got out of the
car, and walked to the carry out window, leaving Ms. Worsley
alone in the car. According to Ms. Worsley, she was supposed
to take her husband's place in the driver's seat and
park the car while he retrieved their food.
meantime, Mr. Mintiens had been at the restaurant since 5
p.m., during which time he met a friend and drank three
beers. Shortly before 6:30 p.m., he obtained a takeout order
for his family's dinner and set out for the parking lot,
where he had parked his truck opposite the handicapped
Mintiens testified that he did not notice any cars parked
behind his truck at that time. According to Mr. Mintiens, in
the space of approximately 20 seconds, he walked to the
passenger side of his truck, placed the food in the passenger
seat, went back around to the driver's side, and got into
his truck. Somewhat at odds with Mr. Mintiens' testimony,
Ms. Worsley testified at trial that she was already sitting
alone in her car when, in her peripheral vision, she saw Mr.
Mintiens walk across the parking lot and approach his truck,
which was parked just about two and a half feet from the car
in which Ms. Worsley sat.
to Mr. Mintiens, after he got into the truck, he looked in
his rear view mirror and driver side mirror (but not his
passenger side mirror) before backing up. There appears to be
no dispute that what happened next was that Mr. Mintiens
backed his truck into Ms. Worsley's car.
Worsley testified that she was about to unbuckle her seat
belt to get out and move her car when she saw the truck
backing towards her. She braced herself against the window
with her right hand, also hoping to catch Mr. Mintiens'
attention. This was apparently to no avail. The back of Mr.
Mintiens truck hit the back passenger-side door of Ms.
feeling his vehicle collide with something, Mr. Mintiens
looked around, believing he may have hit a pothole. When he
saw Ms. Worsley's car, he pulled forward and got out of
his truck. Mr. Mintiens examined the damage done to Ms.
Worsley's car, offered to pay for it, made a suggestion
how to take the dent out of the side door, and exchanged
information with Ms. Worsley before driving home.
Worsley testified that, although she went home with her
husband after the accident, she later sought medical
treatment for injuries to her neck, back, left arm and
shoulder, and right hand.
little over nine months after the accident, on July 25, 2016,
Ms. Worsley filed a complaint against Mr. Mintiens in the
District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore County,
alleging negligence and seeking compensation for her
injuries. The parties appeared for trial on November 3, 2016.
At trial, both Ms. Worsley and Mr. Mintiens testified,
recounting their respective versions of the accident. The
District Court stated that it would likely find that Mr.
Mintiens was negligent and liable, except that the defense of
contributory negligence applied to relieve him of liability.
District Court explained that Ms. Worsley's husband
failed to exercise ordinary care when he parked perpendicular
to a handicapped space, right behind Mr. Mintiens' truck,
rather than in a parking space in the restaurant lot. The
District Court found that this negligence contributed to the
accident. Citing Bowser v. Resh, 170 Md.App. 614
(2006), the District Court relied on the doctrine of imputed
negligence to ascribe the negligence of Ms. Worsley's
husband to the owner of the car - Ms. Worsley. Under that
doctrine, an owner of a vehicle who allows someone else to
drive while remaining present as a passenger may be held
liable for any negligence of the driver. Because the
negligence of Ms. Worsley's husband was therefore imputed
to her, Ms. Worsley was deemed to be contributorily
negligent. Accordingly, the court entered judgment in favor
of Mr. Mintiens.
Worsley appealed to the Circuit Court under Maryland Rule
Appeal to the Circuit Court
hearing oral argument from the parties, the Circuit Court
affirmed the District Court ruling in an order dated May 5,
2017. The Circuit Court found that there was substantial
evidence in the record to support a finding that both Mr.
Mintiens and Ms. Worsley's husband were negligent. The
Circuit Court agreed that, under the doctrine of imputed
negligence, there was a rebuttable presumption that Ms.
Worsley, as sole owner of her car, had control over her
husband's operation of it and would be vicariously liable
for his negligence. The Circuit Court stated that, because
the District Court found no evidence to rebut the
presumption, it properly imputed her husband's negligence
to Ms. Worsley. As a result, Ms. Worsley's claim failed
under the doctrine of contributory negligence.
Worsley petitioned this Court for a writ of
certiorari, which we granted.