After you or a loved one have been in an accident or suffered an injury and you are pursuing a claim one of the decisions you will have to make is if you wish to proceed with an attorney or if you wish to represent yourself. You always have the option to represent yourself in your lawsuit. You are not required to hire an attorney in order to go to court. When you represent yourself in court, the term used to describe you is a pro se or pro per litigant. Pro se and pro per are Latin terms meaning "for one's self." Though the two terms mean the same thing, different states have adopted one term or the other. Maryland uses pro se to describe self-representing litigants.
One of the helpful things that most state court systems do — Maryland included — is provide resources for people who are representing themselves. The Self-Help Centers in Maryland even allow you to speak with an attorney who can help you prepare understand documents and prepare for court. The court also has online resources available.
Small Claims Court
Where the amount of monetary damages you are seeking is very small, it may not be necessary, or worth the expense, to hire an attorney. Cases with a small amount in controversy are usually filed in a small claims court. There are small claims courts in every state. In the small claims courts of Maryland, you have the option to represent yourself in a claim for personal or property damages. In some states you cannot have an attorney represent you in small claims, though this is not the case in Maryland. The District Courts of Maryland handles all the small claims cases in the state. The following requirement must be met in order to file a small claims case:
- your claim is for $5,000 or less
- you are only seeking money
- you are not planning on doing any discovery
The advantages of pursuing a case in small claims court are 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 much cheaper filing fees. Small claims litigants can also use the court Self-Help Centers when preparing their case.
While you always have the right to pursue a personal injury case on your own, there are several reasons that you may still wish to contact an attorney. First, some cases can be extremely complex with multiple claims and multiple parties. In some cases the defendant may file a counter-claim so you would not only be preparing your case to prove liability, you would also need to come up with a defense against the defendant's claims. Another reason to contact an attorney is that the court system has a complicated set of procedural rules that everyone who files a case must follow. Failure to follow proper procedure can result in cases being dismissed or damage awards being overturned.
At Gilman & Bedigian we have been practicing personal injury and medical malpractice law for years. Our attorneys have extensive experience taking all sorts of cases to trial in Maryland courts, from car accidents to class actions against large multinational corporations. Having an attorney on your side can help you navigate the complicated legal system and fight for your rights for you so you can focus on recovery. If you are considering filing a lawsuit for injuries you or a loved one suffered, please do not hesitate to contact us.