What Happens in a Personal Injury Trial in the District Courts of Maryland
[In this article, I refer to “I” and “we”. “We” refers to me and co-counsel.]
If you were my client and we filed a lawsuit in your personal injury case for damages up to $30,000, here is what you might expect to happen.
We file in the district court because there is a special rule that permits medical records to be introduced to prove your damages. The rule requires providing the opposing party, called the defendant, with the medical records and bills. The benefit of proceeding under this special rule is that you do not have to bring medical experts to court. In the circuit court system, which has almost an unlimited level of damages, you must bring your medical expert to court by way of live testimony or a DVD which is shown either to the jury or to the judge or both. Utilizing the special rule can save our clients thousands of dollars. An additional benefit for cases seeking damages of $30,000 or less is that you get to court sooner.
The plaintiff, meaning our client, provides direct testimony first. Here are the elements of what must be proved on direct testimony:
That the plaintiff was driving his or her vehicle in a safe and cautious manner on a specific date and at a specific place.
That the defendant, the opposing party, failed to meet the standards of care and was negligent, thereby causing the accident, which resulted in physical and mental injury and medical damages. Negligence may also include, if you were rear-ended, that the defendant drove to closely to the rear end of your car (called following too closely), was sending a text, or was speeding. Any one or more of these elements (as well as others not described here) are required to prove negligence.
How the plaintiff received medical treatment -- Did the plaintiff get to the hospital by ambulance? How close in time did the plaintiff receive treatment either at the emergency room, or a physician? Did the plaintiff describe all of his physical complaints? Likewise, do the medical records express from the first treatment date all of his or her physical complaints? In court, does the plaintiff, on direct testimony, describe all of the physical complaints? Do the medical records state that the plaintiff's injuries are causally related to the accident and that all of the treatment was reasonable and necessary? Are the injuries suffered by the plaintiff permanent? Unfortunately, if the records do not provide the details that are needed and/or if the plaintiff has not adequately prepared ( in some instances), the plaintiff must remember all of his or her physical complaints.
Often when giving their decision, judges will comment on their reasons for a high verdict or a lesser verdict in monetary damages.
There also may be other damages claimed, including for time off from work. After direct examination is made by me or co-counsel as your lawyers, the defendant, typically by the lawyer assigned by the defendant’s insurance, is able to cross examine the client. The methods used include asking leading questions wherein the client needs to answer “yes” or “no”. We instruct the client that although the response is “yes” or “no”, the client has the right to additionally provide an explanation. Preparation for cross-examination is very important. The lawyer representing the defendant will often attempt to show that the client caused or contributed to the accident. Before trial, we go over with the client the client's explanation of how the accident occurred. The next area of cross-examination typically goes into the client’s first medical treatment. This may involve treatment in the emergency room or at a clinic or at the primary care physician's office. Many times, the medical records do not show all of the client’s physical complaints and we prepare the clients to be prepared for those questions where medical records do not include all of the client’s complaints. As we work with the client before finally suit, we encourage the client to meet with us or have a conference call on the telephone to review the client’s physical complaints. Many clients take the view that “once I have explained my physical complaints to the physician, I no longer have to express the same complaint”. Judges and juries will view an opposite interpretation of why the medical records do not list all the physical complaints. Here a judge or jury may provide the client with lesser damages because of the absence in the medical records of all physical complaints at each visit.
The next important part of the case is redirect examination of our client. Although we can't predict in advance the exact questions that were offered during cross-examination, we can readily determine subject areas. There may have been questions on cross-examination dealing with prior injuries. Often, redirect examination covers the clarification of the client’s statements on cross-examination.
There may be other witnesses such as police officers to whom the defendant made a statement against his or her interest. An example would be where the defendant admitted fault or, at trial, makes a statement opposite to what he told the police officer at the scene and on the date of the accident. Typically, under the special rule, we do not have to bring in physicians, either live or in a video, who have treated our client. That is not the case in circuit courts.
At the conclusion of the plaintiff's case, ( our client’s), the defendant will be examined by his defense attorney. We are permitted to cross-examine the defendant or any witnesses who have testified.
At the conclusion of each side’s presentation of testimony, written evidence, medical records and bills, lost wages, and diminished value of automobiles, each side argues why they should prevail and demand a financial amount of damages.
Often in district courts, the judges give an immediate decision, although they may recess and return to their chambers and then return to the courtroom with the decision.
If either side is dissatisfied with the result, they may file a written request for retrial. This must be done within a specific time. Also, either side may appeal their case to the circuit court. Cases above $5000 are not retried at the circuit court level, but the record, meaning a transcript, is submitted to the circuit court along with reasons for the appeal. Each side is permitted to give an oral argument, most often provided by each attorney.
If either side is dissatisfied with the circuit court's decision, either side or both may appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. Thereafter, if either side is again dissatisfied, then a request to appeal can be made and the Court of Appeals decides whether or not it will grant the appeal.
Fred Antenberg and co-counsel have positive achievements in both the district courts and circuit courts in Maryland as well as appellate courts. Previous success is not a guarantee that your case will result to the degree of your expectations.
Call Fred for a free initial consultation by calling (410) 730-4404.