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Posted On 12.07.12 by in Blog
The Maryland District Courts are the workhorses of the judiciary. These courts hear the bulk of all Maryland cases, and are where most Maryland automobile accident lawsuits end up.
There are no jury trials in the District Courts—every case is a bench trial, which means that a judge will decide all issues. Typically when a complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons and set a preliminary trial date. It is the plaintiff’s obligation to serve the summons and the complaint, along with any written discovery (called interrogatories) on the defendant (the person being sued). The defendant must answer the complaint, usually by filing a notice of intention to defend. The initial trial date will sometimes move because of difficulties serving the defendant, or because of scheduling conflicts with the defense lawyers’ schedules. In most cases, trial ends up being finished by about 7 to 9 months after filing.
There are three levels of civil cases in the District Court:
Cases filed for $5,000 or less (not including attorneys’ fees, interest or costs) are small claims cases. It is important to remember that this $5,000 limit includes medical expenses, property damage (for example, the fair market value of totaled vehicle) and pain and suffering damages. Small claims cases are Maryland’s version of the People’s Court—it is intended for non-lawyers to be able to navigate on their own. The formal rules of evidence (like hearsay, for example) don’t apply, and the procedures are intended to more informal.
$5,000.01 to $15,000.00
The middle level in the District Courts permits a claim of $5,000.01 to $15,000.00, exclusive of attorneys’ fees, interest and costs. Here, the formal rules of evidence do apply, so there can be some pitfalls for unrepresented litigants.
$15,000.01 to $30,000.00
The top level in the District Court is for claims between $15,000.01 and $30,000.00. The important difference between this and the middle level is that here the defendant may choose to move the case to the Circuit Court (called removal) and file a request for a jury trial. This is an important consideration for Plaintiffs—it can take much longer, usually a year or more, to get to a trial in the Circuit Court, so plaintiffs must carefully consider the value of their cases.
One advantage of the District Courts is that medical evidence can be presented through medical records and bills, instead of by the direct testimony of doctors. The rules authorizing this are Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. §§ 10-104 and 10-105. The records simply need to describe the plaintiff’s medical treatment, and state that the injuries were causally related to the automobile accident.
Because medical experts are not required in District Court, the cases move more quickly (usually within an hour or so) and are less expensive for plaintiffs.
Discovery is limited in the District Courts. There are no interrogatories permitted in small claims cases, and only 15 interrogatories allowed in the upper two levels. Depositions are not permitted without court permission, and requests for production of documents are limited to a few types of documents, which can be requested by interrogatories.
Our lawyers regularly file claims in the Maryland District Courts. If you have a personal injury claim like an automobile accident case, contact us at 1-800-776-4529, or send us some preliminary information about your case through our online portal. We can explain your options, and recommend the appropriate court.
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