If you have been in a car accident and unable to settle the claim you must decide where to file the case and for how much.  This is a guide designed to let you know the options for filing suit.  The article primarily discusses Prince George's County but the Court structure is the same in the other Counties in Maryland. 

1.  Do I need a Lawyer?

As a general rule you should retain a lawyer shortly after an accident. A lawyer is able to gather evidence, protect you from the insurance company, and can offer important advice about how to properly document your damages. After an accident, it is impossible to predict how long it will take for you to recover from your injuries. The good news is that most attorneys will take your case on a contingency fee. By retaining an attorney from the start on a contingency fee the attorney runs the risk of not being paid much if your injuries are minor. On the other hand, if your injuries are more serious you will be glad that you had an attorney protecting and building your case from the start.

2. Dealing with the Insurance Company

Insurance companies are in the business of saving money and will attempt to negotiate minimal settlements. Some insurance companies designate certain adjusters to negotiate only with unrepresented injured parties. Such claimants are at a disadvantage because they are unable to credibly threaten legal action and they do not know as much about the process as the insurance adjuster. If you find yourself in the situation of dealing with a difficult adjuster you should bring in an attorney. This alone, may result in the case being transferred to a new adjuster and one that may have more authority to resolve your case.

3.  Building the Case

The most important step in building a personal injury case is to not suffer silently. You need appropriate medical care and to be seen by doctors that will document your injuries in legible and detailed reports. A personal injury case to an insurance adjuster is a stack of papers, composed of medical records, property damage estimates, photographs of injuries, lost wage statements, and bills. If you do not seek appropriate medical treatment your injuries, incapacity and pain will not be documented. If the injury is not documented it will not be fairly compensated. Insurance companies and the Courts require documentation from a doctor to show that you needed to be off work. Without this documentation your lost wage claim may be denied. An experienced personal injury lawyer will make sure that your injuries and damages are appropriately documented.

4.  The Small Claims Case

For most auto accident injury cases you should retain an attorney. In Prince Georges county an injured party may decide to file suit without a lawyer in the District Court as a small claim. The maximum amount that a judge may award in a small claims case is $5,000. The rules of evidence are relaxed in small claims cases so a non-lawyer may present medical bills and records for the trial judges consideration. Lawsuits seeking more than $5,000 will be subject to the rules of evidence and the Judges in Prince Georges county routinely caution non-lawyers from bringing large claims. If you bring a large claim and do not know how to introduce essential documents and bills into evidence you will lose and your only recourse will be an appeal. The appeal will be based on the the record. That means that evidence that you did not properly introduce will not be considered by the reviewing court.

5. The Injury Case Where the Client Fully Recovers within 2-6 Months

These cases usually involves medical bills of $2,000 to $7,500 and lost wages of $0.00 to $2,500. These cases are usually filed in the District Court for Prince George's County for $15,000. By suing for $15,000 or less the defense attorney can not remove the case to Circuit Court and request a jury trial. In District Court the case will be heard by a judge and your medical records can be introduced without paying a doctor to testify. These cases can usually be heard by the judge within 6 months of the filing date and the trial usually will last between 50 minutes and two hours. If the judge finds liability the court will usually award the medical bills, the time lost from work that the doctor found to be related to the accident, plus an amount for pain and suffering. The District Court procedures permit many cases to be resolved with minimal expenses in a timely fashion

6.  The Mid-Level injury Case

If you were involved in an accident where you did not recover within a few months or you sustained an injury such as a modest laceration or minimal fracture you still may want to take advantage of the efficient resolution offered by the Prince George's County District Court. In cases like these, your attorney can file suit for up to $30,000 and submit the medical records to the Court. The defense may request a jury trial and remove the case to Circuit Court. If this happens, your attorney will still have the option to introduce the medical records into evidence without paying a doctor to testify.  In Circuit Court the defense attorney will take your deposition, subpoena your prior medical records and subject your case to the scrutiny of a jury. The Prince George's County Jury system is one of the more favorable jury pools for personal injury cases in the State of Maryland.  You will need the advice of an attorney who has tried many cases in the County to guide you through this process.

7.  The Jury Trial

If you have sustained a serious fracture, a chronic injury, needed a surgery, or suffered a serious scar your case will require a jury trial if a reasonable settlement can not be reached. Prince George's County has a reputation for jury verdicts that are fair to those who have been injured in accidents. Nevertheless, a jury trial requires the skilled services of an experienced trial attorney to obtain the testimony of your treating doctor, to cross examine the doctor hired by the insurance company to oppose your case, and to properly present the elements of your case. It usually will take about one year from the time that suit is filed until your case is heard by a jury. The Jury will decide who was at fault for the accident and assuming a favorable liability decision the jury will award medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages.

A trial is a daunting experience to most plaintiffs and to some lawyers.  Choosing the best guide to lead through the process is critical.  George and Maria Patterson have tried over 150 Jury trials and over 1,000 District Court trials.  George Patterson has been certified and re-certified as a civil trial advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy based on passing a board exam, actual trial experience, recommendations from judges and lawyers that presided over or tried cases against George Patterson. Both lawyers have received the highest honors for their trial and legal skills by several legal organizations. George and Maria Patterson have both been selected by legal organizations to present seminars on trial skills and techniques.