Topics on this page:
- Consider Hiring an Attorney
- Personal Injury Basics
- Filing Your Claim on Time
- Other Resources
Consider Hiring an Attorney
Personal injury matters are generally challenging for self-represented litigants. Consider hiring an attorney to represent you in a personal injury case.
Many different laws and areas of expertise may apply - There are many different kinds of personal injury cases, including automobile negligence, medical malpractice, and products liability. Each type of personal injury case requires different skills and expertise for success. Because the evidence in these cases may require familiarity with other areas of knowledge, such as engineering, physics, or medicine, these cases can be difficult for a person without special training to handle. An attorney experienced in this area will develop a "theory" of the case to guide the attorneys' argument on your behalf. The attorney may draw upon several areas of the law plus basic legal principles.
Limited resources for self-represented litigants - Resources, including organizations, that assist self-represented litigants with personal injury lawsuits are more limited, as compared to family law, landlord/tenant law, and other areas of law.
Expert witnesses and evidence - To be successful, you will need to decide which areas of the case need expert witnesses. This includes locating, evaluating, and paying for expert witnesses. In addition, you will need to define the issues for expert witnesses.
Discovery - You will most likely need information about other parties, including the defendant, to present your case. Discovery refers to special set of legal rules and tools that can be used to find out information from the other parties in the case, including people, corporations, and agencies. Learn more about discovery.
Settlements Before and During Trial - Most cases of this type are settled after the case is filed but before the full court hearing on the merits of the case. Settlements can be challenging, especially if you are negotiating with a defendant that has legal representation. Aside from the challenges of representing yourself on an emotional issue, many personal injury cases involve an argument that there has been some level of incapacity as the result of the defendant's actions or negligence. It will be hard to make that argument if you are handling the case yourself.
Personal Injury Basics
Each type of personal injury case requires different skills and expertise for success. Personal injury cases are part of the larger law of torts. It is not possible to summarize the law relating to every type of injury here. There are, however, some core concepts that will help you to understand what you must prove.
"Personal injury" means an injury to your body or mind.
"Tort" means a wrongful action that injures a person, for which the injured person may receive monetary compensation from the person who committed the wrongful action. Torts may result from intentional or negligent actions.
"Negligence" is a complicated legal concept. At its most basic level, negligence generally means that a person did not take reasonable care to avoid injury to someone else. This can include a defendant that did not do something that the defendant should have done. To make a negligence claim in Maryland, the plaintiff must prove that:
- the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff,
- defendant breached that duty,
- the plaintiff was actually hurt or injured, and
- the defendant’s action was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
In other words, the injured person injured must prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to the defendant, which caused injury to the plaintiff.
Read the Case: Schultz v. Bank of America, N.A., 413 Md. 15 (Court of Appeals 2010)
“Liability” or being held liable means you are responsible for the harm caused by your decision to perform an action or failure to perform such action. There may be different types of liability standards for different personal injury cases.
“Damages” is the amount of money you would be given for the harm done to you by the defendant if you win your personal injury case. However, it is often hard to know how much financial compensation you should be given for the harm caused. Depending on the specific facts and circumstances of your situation, you can be compensated for medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, wage loss, etc.
Filing Your Claim on Time
Maryland law sets a deadline to file a court complaint against a person or company that has wrongfully injured you. This statute of limitations means that if you wait too long after suffering (or discovering) an injury to file your claim, you may be legally unable to recover any money from the person who hurt you. This is true even if that person really is to blame for your injury.
Figuring out which statute of limitations applies to your case can be difficult. The statute of limitations that applies to most tort cases is 3 years from the date the harm "accrues" (see below) unless another provision of the Code provides a different period of time. Be aware that other Maryland statutes can provide other time periods for specific types of matters. For example, actions for assault, libel, or slander must be filed within one year of the date when they accrue. Learn more about statutes of limitations.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-101; § 5-105
Even after you figure out which law applies, you must decide when this period starts. Deciding when a cause of action accrues is often a matter of complex legal interpretation and requires substantial case law research. Consider consulting a lawyer to help you figure out when your cause of action accrued. Usually, but not always, the tort cause of action "accrues" on the date when the wrongful action occurs and results in injury.
Read the Cases: Litz v. Maryland Department of the Environment, 434 Md. 623 (2013); Booth Glass Co. v. Huntingfield Corp., 304 Md. 615 (1985).
Even if you can prove that the person you are suing wrongfully injured you, and you file your law suit within the legal time limit, your claim may be barred (prohibited) or reduced by certain legal defenses.
One such defense is "contributory negligence." In Maryland, you can't legally recover compensation from a person who negligently injured you if you also acted negligently, and your own negligence contributed to your injury. In other words, if you were also to blame for the injury because you were negligent, you may be barred from recovering anything.
Read the Case: Coleman v. Soccer Ass'n of Columbia, 432 Md. 679 (2013)
However, there are exceptions to the contributory negligence defense. For example, the last clear chance doctrine may apply if “(i) the defendant is negligent; (ii) the plaintiff is contributorily negligent; and (iii) the plaintiff makes a showing of something new or sequential, which affords the defendant a fresh opportunity (of which he fails to avail himself) to avert the consequences of his original negligence.” In other words, the injured party must show that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the harm to the plaintiff after the plaintiff performed their negligent action(s).
Read the Case: Wooldridge v. Price, 184 Md. App. 451 (Court of Special Appeals, 2009)
Another possible defense to a personal injury claim is "assumption of the risk." In Maryland, a person is said to have assumed the risk of injury when the person has full knowledge and understanding of an existing danger and voluntarily exposes themselves to that danger. In other words, if the other side can show that you knew of the danger and you chose to go ahead, you may be barred from recovery.
Read the Case: Poole v. Coakley & Williams Constr'n, Inc., 423 Md. 91 (2011)
There may be other possible defenses to your personal injury claim, depending on who hurt you and how. Very thorough research is required to determine whether you can win a personal injury case.
If you decide to pursue your case on your own, or if you just need more information, there are resources available at your local public law library that may help you. Note that there are no official court forms for making a personal injury claim.
Any potential plaintiff who is not clear on what to do should considering consulting an attorney. Also, be aware that court clerks cannot give legal advice. A clerk will not review a complaint. Acceptance by a Clerk of a complaint does not mean that the complaint meets all of the requirements of the law. Learn about starting a case.