When you or a loved one has been injured and you are thinking of contacting an attorney, often the first question that comes to mind is, do I even have a case? The simple answer to this question is: it depends. It depends on the facts and circumstances of the incident and it depends on the law involved. At the initial stages of a case, it can seem like there is no reason a client might not recover, but after discovery and trial preparations different things can come to light that can affect whether or not the defending party can be held liable. Among the initial considerations you may need to think about when deciding to bring a claim are the time frame involved and the amount of money you are seeking to recover, if any.
Time Frame in Maryland
The legal term used to describe the amount of time you have to bring a particular personal injury claim is statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is "[a] law that bars claims after a specified period; specifically, a statute establishing a time limit for suing in a civil case, based on the date when the claim accrued (as when the injury occurred or was discovered.)" Black's Law Dictionary 1546 (9th ed. 2009). There are different statutes of limitations for different types of cases. In the table below are the Maryland statutes of limitations that are applicable to the types of cases Gilman and Bedigian handles.
|Type of Case||Statutes of Limitations||Code Section (Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5 (LexisNexis 2015))|
|Personal Injury (General)||3 years||§ 5-101|
|Assault||1 year||§ 5-105|
|Medical Malpractice||5 years from injury; or 3 years from discovery of injury, whichever is earlier||§ 5-109|
|Type of Case||Personal Injury (General)|
|Statutes of Limitations||3 years|
|Code Section (Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5 (LexisNexis 2015))||§ 5-101|
|Type of Case||Assault|
|Statutes of Limitations||1 year|
|Code Section (Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5 (LexisNexis 2015))||§ 5-105|
|Type of Case||Medical Malpractice|
|Statutes of Limitations||5 years from injury; or 3 years from discovery of injury, whichever is earlier|
|Code Section (Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5 (LexisNexis 2015))||§ 5-109|
Government as a Party: Often there are specific requirements for suing the government. The most common requirement is that you must give the government notice of a claim within a specified period of time. This notice requirement must be complied with before a lawsuit can be filed.
- Federal: If you are seeking to file a lawsuit against the federal government you must first file an administrative claim with the federal agency at fault within 2 years. If the agency rejects your claim, you have six months from the date of mailing of the rejection to file a lawsuit.
- Maryland: If you endured an injury or property damage by an employee of the State of Maryland or believe the injury was caused by the negligence of the State of Maryland, the State must receive notice of a claim within one year (365 days) of the incident. Once you have complied with the notice requirements you must bring a claim within the statute of limitations applicable to your cause of action.
- Local: Local government agencies also have administrative requirements that must be met before a lawsuit can be filed. For example, if you have been injured by an employee of the City of Baltimore you must file the proper notice within a certain period of time. If you are giving notice of a claim for an injury that occurred prior to October 1, 2015 you must provide notice within 180 days. If you are giving notice for a claim after October 1, 2015 then you have 1 year (365 days) to do so.
Other Considerations: Typically a statute of limitations begins to run when the injury or incident occurs. However, there are a few things that can affect when the statute of limitations begins to run including: the age of the injured party, if the injured party is suffering from some sort of infirmity, or if the injury is not discovered for a period of time.
- Infirmity: The statute of limitations begins to run only after the disability is removed. Md. Code Ann., Cts & Jud. Proc. § 5-201 (LexisNexis 2015).
- Age: The statute of limitations does not begin to run until the injured minor turns 18. Id.
- Discovery: A cause of action does not accrue until a plaintiff knew, or should have known, of the wrong. Poffenberger v. Risser, 290 Md. 631, 636 (1981).
Small Claims Court in Maryland
In certain instances, it may not be necessary to retain an attorney. If the amount of damages involved is very limited, then it may not be worth the expense to you to hire an attorney to represent you. Every state has a small claims court where you can represent yourself and litigate your claim for personal or property damages. In Maryland, the District Court handles small claims. You can file a small claims case if the following requirements are met:
- your claim is for $5,000 or less
- you are only seeking money
- you are not planning on doing any discovery
The advantage of filing a small claims case is that the court procedure is much simpler, the case moves much faster (with hearing dates set within 60 days of when you file), and there are cheaper filing fees. In addition, because those representing themselves are often unfamiliar with law and procedure, the Maryland District Court has a Self-Help Resource Center where limited legal services are provided to assist claimants. The court also has online resources available.
Proving Damages in Maryland
Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice are types of negligence. In Maryland, a plaintiff must prove the four elements of negligence in order to recover for their injuries. Those elements are: duty, breach, causation, and damages. As part of their negligence case a plaintiff typically must prove that he or she suffered some kind of harm, be it personal injury or property damage. If no harm is proven, then no recovery is possible. See, Peroti v. Williams, 258 Md. 663, 670 (1970) ("[A]ctual damages are a prerequisite for liability in a negligence cases, and nominal damages, or 'technical liability' do not exist."). Nominal damages is the legal term for minimal damages and is defined as "[a] trifling sum awarded when a legal injury is suffered but there is no substantial loss or injury to be compensated." Black's Law Dictionary 447 (9th ed. 2009). That is not to say that a court will never award nominal damages. Nominal damages can be awarded in cases involving intentional torts, defamation, or contracts. Additionally, damages are not an element in most intentional tort cases. However, damages can be awarded as long as the other elements of the claim are proven.
At Gilman & Bedigian we take the time to discuss with each and every potential client whether or not they have a case through our free phone consultation, so please don't hesitate to contact us even if you are not sure if you have a case.