May 3rd, 2019
The Process of a Maryland District Court Trial: Timeframes, Discovery, and Your Day in Court
Author: Laura C. Llanso
If you are injured in an automobile collision, you should contact an attorney to learn about your options, including filing a lawsuit.
If you do need to go to court in Maryland, there are two trial courts: the District Court and the Circuit Court.
District Court cases are decided by a judge, involve an amount in dispute of $30,000 or less, and usually take less time to get to a trial. Circuit Court cases are decided by a jury, the amount in dispute and the costs to pursue the case are greater, and it usually takes much longer to get to a trial. This article deals with pursuing a claim for personal injuries in the District Court only. This article does not deal with the rules for Small Claims cases in District Court – amount at issue is $5,000 or less – as those rules are different.
In Maryland, you sue the person who caused the collision (“the defendant”). The defendant usually is represented by someone hired by their insurance company to defend them. If you win, the amount awarded, if any is paid by the insurance company up to the amount of the defendant’s insurance coverage.
After a lawsuit is filed, the first step is to deliver a copy of the lawsuit to the defendant. You hire someone or pay the sheriff to give the defendant notice of the lawsuit in any of the ways allowed by the court’s rules. Then, an attorney hired by the insurance company for the defendant, if they have insurance, notifies the court that they are representing the defendant.
The next step is “discovery” which usually involves each side exchanging 15 written questions (“interrogatories”) that must be answered “under oath” and truthfully. The court rules determine the time you have for delivering the interrogatories to the other side, and answering them. The interrogatories usually focus on how the collision occurred, what your injuries were, and the extent of your damages.
The court also has rules about notifying the other side if you intend to submit certain evidence at trial regarding medical expenses, medical treatment, and out of pocket expenses for things such as damage to your vehicle, a deductible, towing, etc. There are deadlines set by the court’s rules by when you must notify the other side of your intention to attempt to use these documents at trial.
Finally, you will have your trial date. You will meet with your attorney before the trial to prepare. If you need an interpreter, the court will provide one for you upon request. Your attorney will ask you questions about the collision and about your injuries. The defendant’s attorney will also be allowed to ask you questions. The judge will consider the evidence that has been presented and will decide whether you have proved that the other person was the sole cause of the collision, and if the collision caused your damages. The judge decides what, if any, amount will be awarded.
In District Court, a judge can award anywhere from $0 up to the amount that you sued for. A District Court judge’s decision cannot be appealed just because you think you should have received more money.
Make sure to speak to an attorney if you are injured in a collision and want more information about the court process.