Green Doesn’t Always Mean Go!

Heffner v. Admiral Taxi Cab Service, Inc., 196 Md. 465, 77 A.2D 127 (1950)

In this case, the Plaintiff, a 56 year old man, was walking across a four-lane crossway when he was hit by a taxi cab. The man was was three-fourths of the way across a four-lane thoroughfare at the intersection of Howard and Franklin Street in Baltimore, Maryland when he was struck. In response to this accident the Plaintiff sued and was awarded damages for his personal injury claim by a Jury.

In response to this verdict, the defendant utilized a Procedural Rule for Judgment Not Withstanding Verdict (JNOV). This is when the judge is asked to enter a verdict that is different than the one found by the jury. Defendant asked for this because the defendant had a green light, and accordingly, Plaintiff played a part in causing the accident and was contributory negligent as a matter of law. The judge agreed and granted the JNOV.

The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and defendant that it is the duty of the pedestrian to use reasonable care in walking on a street and to act as an ordinary person would under similar circumstances. However, the court also found that a driver approaching an intersection must exercise Greater Vigilance when driving between intersections. A green light does not give a driver the right to drive recklessly without worrying about people in the street. In this case, it was not contributory negligence because the Plaintiff was three quarters of the way across the street and did not act unreasonably in his attempt to cross the street. The driver, on the other hand, was seen to be negligent in blindly driving with no regard to pedestrians in the walkway.

The message today as was 57 years ago is that in the State of Maryland, a green light does not always mean “Go”. A driver must exercise reasonable care in avoiding any pedestrians who have not yet made it across the street.


  1. In the State of Maryland under the Doctrine of Contributory Negligence, if you are 1% at fault, you will lose your entire case as Maryland is not a Comparative Negligence state.

  2. In comparison, in the State of California, if you are 10% at fault and your recovery was $10,000, you would only receive $9,000 as California is a Comparative State.

  3. Contributory negligence is a defense to a claim based on negligence, an action in tort. It applies to cases where a plaintiff/claimant has, through his own negligence, contributed to the harm he or she suffered. For example, a pedestrian crosses a road negligently and is hit by a driver who was driving negligently. The pedestrian has contributed to the accident. Another example of contributory negligence is where a plaintiff voluntarily disregards warnings and assumes a certain level of risk. An exception is made when reasonable risk is taken while attempting to rescue another person; this is not considered contributory negligence.
    Contributory negligence is sometimes regarded as unfair because under the doctrine a victim who is at fault to any degree, including only 1% at fault, may be denied compensation entirely, which is known as pure contributory negligence.The argument can be made that a parties contributory negligence is the only reason the accident happened, supporting the view of zero recover. Still, most jurisdictions in the United States do not recognize an all or nothing approach. The pure contributory negligence doctrine only applies in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Indiana applies pure contributory negligence to malpractice cases.

  4. Trial Court granted a Procedural JNOV alleging that the driver of the taxi cab had a duty to exercise greater diligence when approaching an intersection, but the contributory negligence of the Plaintiff barred him from the recovery the Jury rewarded him.