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Choosing Your Court

Norwood jury box.jpgWe just finished a three day trial in the Baltimore City Circuit Court. It was a simple enough case in the beginning–we represented two clients who were injured when they were t-boned on Christmas day as they drove down to Our Daily Bread to help feed the homeless. Liability was disputed (meaning that the other driver’s insurance company believed our driver was at fault). Our clients had reasonable enough medical treatment, so we filed in the District Court for $30,000.00.

Unfortunately, the other side had other ideas. They immediately filed a cross-claim and moved us into the Circuit Court, something that the defense has a right to do when you file a case for over $15,000. Truth be told, our case probably should have been filed for less than $15,000. Our total medical bills were about $8,000 spread over two clients, and there wasn’t any significant permanency.

So, we slugged it out in Circuit Court. What would have been a one to two-hour trial in District Court became a three day trial in Circuit Court. It takes longer because we had to pick a jury, experts had to testify live (in District Court it is usually done by simply submitting the medical records and bills), and, of course, the jury needs to take a break from time-to-time.

The result, however, was good. Our clients won on liability, thanks to the defendant’s testimony that didn’t jive with the photographs of the collision. They had based their entire defense on an argument that our clients were running late to their volunteer work, and (either intentionally or negligently) ran a red light.

Why is this important? The choice of court is typically one that we make in consultation with the client. There are some pros/cons of filing in each court:

Circuit Court:

  • typically takes a year to a year and a half to get to trial
  • trial usually lasts 1-3 days
  • case costs are higher (which means that the client’s recovery could be less) largely because of deposition costs and expert fees
  • possible to recover over $30,000.00 (assuming the case facts justifies it)
  • can be heard by a jury

District Court:

  • typically takes 4-6 months to get to trial
  • trial usually lasts 1 to 2 hours
  • low case costs–often between $0.00 and $100.00
  • recovery limited to $30,000 (though, you might choose to file for $15,000 or less, or even $5,000 or less)
  • trial is heard by judge (called a bench trial)

If you have questions about the proper court, give us a call at 410.252.0600. We can help you choose which court is the right court for you.