Whether an individual becomes incapacitated due to a business establishment's carelessness, medical malpractice or a vehicular accident, there could be justification for a personal injury lawsuit wherein other parties deemed responsible are required to compensate the victim. Judicial systems are similar nationwide, though Maryland law differs in several aspects.
In Which Jurisdiction Will I File My Lawsuit?
Civil litigation can commence either in the county in which the injured individual resides or the location where the incident occurred. Whether the lawsuit is filed in District or Circuit depends upon the amount of compensation the injured person—the plaintiff—is requesting. Litigation requesting in excess of $5,000 damages is filed in Circuit Court, while lawsuits seeking less than $5,000 damages are filed in District Court; lawsuits requesting between $5,000 and $30,000 can be filed in either court.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for the Lawsuit?
For most personal injury accusations in Maryland, plaintiffs are permitted three years from the time the incident occurred to pursue litigation; in medical malpractice, the deadline is three years after the injury is discovered but no more than five years after it was committed. Other deadline exceptions include allegations involved assault, libel or slander—in those situations, litigation must commence within one year.
What Is the Procedure?
The plaintiff's initial action involves preparing and filing the lawsuit—legally, this document is called the complaint. The individual, business or organization subject to the litigation must file a "notice of intention to defend" within 15 days of receiving the summons. The defendant also can file a countersuit or incorporate a counterclaim in the response—an allegation that the plaintiff caused any injuries, the defendant was harmed due to the plaintiff's negligence and the plaintiff should be forced to financially compensate the defendant.
How Will Damages Be Determined?
The lawsuit can ask for reimbursement for economic damages—medical expenses, compensation for lost wages and other actual financial losses—and state law does not limit this. There are, however, restrictions on the amount of non-economic damages that can be recovered—compensation for pain and suffering, for example—and this limit changes every year. Punitive or "punishing" damages are permitted, though a plaintiff must prove that the defendant's conduct was reckless, deplorable or immoral—a difficult standard to reach. Maryland is a pure "contributory negligence" state, meaning that plaintiffs will not be permitted to collect damages if their own negligent conduct was responsible for the injuries.
Preparing for the Trial
Both sides execute a process known as "discovery" as they prepare their lawsuits; during this reciprocal exchange, any requested information or evidence must be disclosed. Interrogatories—questions the other side must answer honestly—often are exchanged as well. Frequently, depositions, or out-of-court oral testimony from witnesses, will be taken. Oftentimes the plaintiff must undergo psychological or physiological examinations.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The overwhelming majority of lawsuits nationwide reach resolution before trial, often through arbitration, mediation or neutral assessment. All three mechanisms involve appearing before a neutral individual, though the role of each does differ slightly. In Maryland, many district and some circuit courts have established mediation programs for personal injury litigation, though either party can request such services absent a formal program in local jurisdictions.
Going to Trial
The trial commences with the selection of six jurors. Both sides present evidence in hopes of convincing jurors; the verdict must be unanimous. Either side can appeal unfavorable verdicts, and in personal injury litigation, the amount of damages can be appealed as well.
How Much Will It Cost?
Many personal-injury litigators work on contingency bases, with their compensation coming from damages awarded the plaintiffs. Maryland law specifies no numeric limitation on contingency fees, though they must be "reasonable"; a sliding scale beginning at 33 percent for litigation settled before trial to 40 percent for lawsuits that are appealed is common.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney
This article is a general overview of personal injury law in Maryland. For specific inquiries, consult a local attorney.