The Benefits of Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in the District Court
There are benefits to filing a personal injury lawsuit in district courts in the State of Maryland, especially the benefit afforded under Courts and Judicial Proceedings Sections 10-104 and 10-105 as explained in Item 1 below.
Note: Section 10-104 and Section 10-105 should not be used for cases where medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and other damages exceed $30,000 because the Maryland district courts have a jurisdictional limitation (a cap) of $30,000.
A most important consideration is this: If the lawsuit damage claimed is $15,000 or below, the negligent party, the defendant, may not request a jury trial. In some jurisdictions, such as in Howard County, you (the plaintiff) may receive a higher judgment/award ($15K or less) from a judge then you would receive from a jury. Some Howard County juries may award a lesser amount for your specials (medical expenses and lost wages) than a judge would and no monetary award for pain and suffering.
How can that happen? Jurors, as an example, may have been brainwashed by insurance companies through effective advertising to believe that if the jury awards a liberal verdict, the result will be an increase in insurance premiums. Juries also may consider, because of so much advertising by lawyers, that the litigation process encourages unreasonable and excessive claims. If you watch a television newscast, in 30 minutes you will see probably as many as 5 advertisements for lawyers advising potential alleged victims to “sign up with me and I will get you what you deserve and without any cost to you unless we win”. The public forms a negative perception of lawyers, their clients, and often physicians (as some medical providers only treat auto accident persons) as a result of this excessive number of advertisements.
On the other hand, the larger insurance companies more often do not settle personal injury claims for reasonable compensation and so clients and their attorneys are forced to file suit in either district or circuit court. The important advantages of filing a personal injury claim in the district court for $15,000 or less are:
1. You do not have to bring the treating physician to court, either “live” or by video. It could cost from $4,000 to $8,000 or more to have the physician come to court. In some cases, the court docket may be so long that your case is never heard on the day it is scheduled. Your physician will submit a charge to you for his time that day and you will have to pay him again for his return to court on the next scheduled trial date. An alternative is to take the physician’s testimony through a video and play the video in court. That cost, including the physician’s fee, the videographer’s fee and the stenographer’s fee, may total as much as $2,000 - $3,000.
Sections 104 and 105 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Maryland Code permit the medical testimony, including the doctors’ and/or dentists’ treatment records and bills, physical therapy and chiropractic treatment records and bills, and diagnostic reports and bills, to be introduced into evidence without a medical provider coming to court. The medical records introduced should describe that the treatment was reasonable, necessary, and caused by the accident. Since some primary care physicians are not aware of these requirements, often times a poor outcome at trial is a result. Timely notice to the court along with all medical/dental records and bills must be filed 60 days before trial in order to be introduced into evidence at trial.
2. District court cases are set for trial between 45 and 60 days from the date the lawsuit (called a Complaint) is filed. In the circuit court, a trial date is not initially established by the court and trial may occur approximately one year or longer from the date of the filing of the Complaint. Also, more often than not, cases filed in the district court for $15,000 or less are settled before the trial date.
3. The process is efficient and relatively fast. In the district court, typically there are no depositions without permission of the court or unless there is agreement by the parties. Discovery such as Interrogatories is limited to 15 written questions instead of 30 written questions as is permitted in the circuit court. Also, there are many more discovery options in the circuit court which make the litigation process in the circuit court much more time consuming.
4. In the district court, there are no juries. Again, in some district courts, the cases filed for $15,000 or less may result in a greater monetary outcome for the plaintiff than in circuit court because a judge and not a jury is deciding the award of damages.
5. Insurance companies and their “chump change” offers of settlement. “Chump change” is a term applied to an insurance company’s offer of settlement that is unreasonably low. Often, as in this example where the damages are $5,000 and the insurance company offers $6,000 or less, the following occurs: (a) suit is filed in the district court and then (b) either before the day of trial, on the day of trial, or at a settlement conference, the insurance company offers a settlement of $10,000 or more. By filing suit, the plaintiff (my client) was able to receive a reasonable settlement from the insurance company and, as an additional benefit of filing in the district court, a settlement that is not taxable, meaning the client does not have to pay income taxes on the settlement proceeds. However, with a jury trial in the circuit court, some of the specified award given by the jury may be taxable. Tax laws change and, at some time in the future, the award may become taxable. Damages awarded in discrimination cases and unlawful discharge cases are taxable now.
It has been my experience when dealing with clients whose cases are worth $15,000 or less that those clients preferred having their cases filed and tried in the district court when they were not offered reasonable settlements during the initial negotiation process.
Fred Antenberg has over 30 years’ experience in handling personal injury cases in Howard County and the surrounding counties of Central Maryland and Baltimore. Fred and his team of attorneys have successfully tried cases in both district court and circuit court even though prior success is not a guarantee that your case will succeed.
Call Fred for a Free Initial Consultation at 410-730-4404.