Filing a Lawsuit in Maryland's District Court
In this new installment to our Anatomy of a Case series, we now take a deep drive into how car accident cases are filed in the Maryland District Court system. We will take a look at how the process is different, and why we would file there at all. Come with us as we de-mystify the Maryland car accident litigation process!
Why Are We Filing?
In every car accident case, we work hard to try to settle our clients' cases. We do this because settling is quicker, and less expensive, than taking a case to trial. Almost 80% of the Maryland car accident claims that we work, are resolved by settlement before a lawsuit is filed.
However, sometimes litigation is the only option. In some circumstances, the insurance companies deny liability outright. In other cases, the at-fault insurance carriers offer to settle, but for very little money. The insurance companies sometimes play dastardly tricks, like saying that even though your hospital bill was $7,000.00, they are "only" going to "accept" maybe $3,000.
When the insurance companies de-value and minimize our clients' cases, we will often recommend going to court.
Venue - Where We File the Lawsuit
When our client agrees with our recommendation to file a lawsuit, we have to determine where to file it. In Maryland, just like Virginia, we have two options:
we can file a lawsuit in the county where the car accident happened; or
we can file the lawsuit in the county where the Defendant resides
The jurisdiction where the lawsuit is filed is called venue.
Choice of Courts
Each county in Maryland has two different courts: the District Court and the Circuit Court.
Maryland District Courts are the lower level court, and have limited jurisdiction. The most that can be sued for in District Court is $30,000.00. In Circuit Court, there is no cap on the ad damnum, or amount that can be asked for, whether $30,001 or $30,000,000,000.
Each Court is governed by its own section of the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure (as outlined, below).
Also, unlike Virginia's General District Courts, the Maryland District Courts also permit some limited discovery.
In this article, we focus on the District Court.
Why Pick the District Court?
Before we file a lawsuit, we have to reasonable evaluate what a case is worth. What a case is worth is determined by what a client's damages are. Just because our client wants $100,000, does not mean the case is worth $100,000. The burden of proof lies with the Plaintiff, or person bringing the case. We have to prove that the accident was the result of someone else's negligence, and also that our client was damaged as a result. Here are some examples of how we would make the choice:
Example 1 - a client has $7,000 in medical bills and no lost wages.
In this situation, it may be difficult to prove damages in excess of
$30,000, so we will proceed to District Court.
Example 2 - a client has $20,000 in medical bills and another
$5,000 in time lost from work. Factoring in non-economic
damages, such as pain and suffering, it is likely that
the award will be in excess of $30,000, so this case
would probably be filed in Circuit Court.
Another factor in making our choice of the District Court is time. Most District Courts can be relatively quick - from the day of filing to trial can be as little as 7 months. Circuit Courts can be twice that wait, or longer.
Starting the Process
Once we have made our choice of venue, and then chosen our court, we proceed to file the actual lawsuit. In Maryland District Courts, we file a complaint, along with the coversheet.
A Maryland District Court action can actually be initiated just using the one-page cover sheet, below. But there is not very much space to properly set out the case, so our practice is to include an attached Complaint, written out in paragraph form, like a regular legal pleading.
The entire document must be completed when filing this with the Court. This includes a specific affidavit that the Defendant is not on active military service. Suits where the Defendant is on active military service, such as a deployment, are governed by a special federal law called the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act.
Serving the Complaint
Once the complaint is accepted for filing, a case number will be generated. Also generated by the Clerk of the Court is the official summons in the case, which literally commands the Defendant to defend the case, or suffer a default judgment. One summons is issued for each person or entity being sued.
Service of Maryland District Court complaints are governed by the Rule 3-121, which says that a Defendant can be served:
In personam (in person), meaning directly handing it to the Defendant;
Serving the Defendant at his residence, by giving a copy of the Summons and Complaint paperwork to a person who lives there (not a guest, and not a child);
by Certified Mail, with Restricted Delivery
However, some people can intentionally evade service, as we have seen on TV (and actually happens). If this happens, the Plaintiff can request "alternate service" on Motion to the Court, which includes an affidavit setting out the failed attempts to effect proper service. If the Court grants the Motion, some Courts have permitted service via publication, which is when the Plaintiff's attorney takes out an ad in a specific paper announcing the lawsuit.
Thus far, we have covered how to get a Maryland car accident lawsuit filed, and served. In our next article, we cover what happens next on the path to a Maryland District Court trial.
Maryland District Court Rules of Procedure: https://casetext.com/rule/maryland-court-rules/title-3-maryland-rules-of-civil-procedure-district-court
Maryland Circuit Court Rules of Procedure: https://casetext.com/rule/maryland-court-rules/title-2-maryland-rules-of-civil-procedure-circuit-court