In Maryland, there are many reasons why a case might go to court. Because every case is unique, whether or not a lawsuit will need to be filed and whether or not a case will go all the way to trial will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case, the willingness of the parties to reach a settlement agreement, and various other factors.
Pre-Lawsuit Negotiations in Maryland
Some cases may be able to avoid the court system altogether if the parties are able to reach a settlement through negotiations. This is advantageous to litigants because the parties are fully in control of the settlement process and there is no delay due to the crowded court system.
Prior to beginning negotiations, a personal injury attorney will usually wait until the client has recovered from his or her injuries or is as recovered as much as he or she can be from the accident (termed maximum medical improvement). After maximum medical improvement is reached, then the case will begin to move forward into the negotiation process. The reason that an attorney will wait until a client has fully recovered, or reached maximum medical improvement, is so that the measure of damages stemming from the accident is accurate and properly accounts for the extent of losses incurred.
In Maryland, the first step in the negotiation process is typically to send a demand letter to the party or parties at fault. A demand letter is a letter in “which one party explains its legal position in a dispute and requests that the recipient take some action (such as paying money owed), or else risk being sued.” Black's Law Dictionary 495 (9th Ed. 2009). The party at fault will then respond to the letter and the response will determine how the case moves forward. For example, the party at fault might agree that they are liable for the injuries incurred and the parties will then begin discussions on how much to settle the case for. Or the party at fault might dispute their liability and the case will likely move to court. Or the parties might agree who is at fault but dispute how much should be paid in damages.
Sometimes, however, a lawsuit may need to be filed right away or soon after the accident. In Maryland, one such circumstance where this may occur is if the statute of limitations will run before the client has reached maximum medical improvement. A 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). Essentially, an attorney will file a case in court to preserve the client's right to sue. The parties will still enter into the negotiation process and attempt to come to an agreement much the same way those who had not yet filed a case would, but the parties would be doing this prior to trial instead of a prior to a lawsuit being filed.
Pre-Trial Negotiations in Maryland
If the parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement outside of court, the next step is to file a lawsuit. A lawsuit begins by filing a complaint with the appropriate court. A complaint is a document that “states the basis for the court's jurisdiction, the basis for the plaintiff's claim, and the demand for relief.” Black's Law Dictionary 323 (9th Ed. 2009).
Once a lawsuit has been commenced in Maryland, the parties are still likely going to be making an effort to settle the case prior to going to trial. Again, this is to the parties advantage because they retain greater control over the settlement process and there is less of a time delay. Pre-trial settlement is actually incredibly common. About95% of cases filed settle prior to going to trial. Some states even have a pre-trial requirement that the parties attend a settlement conference, arbitration, or mediation in an effort to reach an agreement and forego the need for a trial. Maryland courts vary by venue, but some do have mandatory pre-trial settlement conference or mediation requirements.
If you or a loved one has been injured or in an accident in Maryland, or if you have any questions about the legal process, please don't hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today.