Personal Injury Cases: Maryland and DC Differences

Different jurisdictions have different laws about personal injury and legal procedure that can impact your potential case. This can include the statute of limitations, laws regarding liability, and more. John Yannone of our personal injury litigation group discusses some of these differences between DC and Maryland.

What Is Unique About DC Personal Injury Cases?

John Yannone: There is a difference in recovery for a wrongful death case in DC. If there has been a death or a killing of some sort and there’s a claim brought, it’s brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. The wrongful death is brought on behalf of the surviving family members, and in DC, the recovery for that is limited to what we call ‘pecuniary loss,’ or economic support that was provided by the loved one and has been lost. There is no recovery for loss of love and affection or for grief, and that’s very different than in most jurisdictions. Wrongful death is a product of statute. It did not exist in the common law, so when DC tasked its statute, it made the decision that they would allow for a loss of economic support and loss of services that the loved one was providing, but they would not allow for grief or loss of love and affection, whereas in Maryland they allow for all of that.

Until May 2012, the statute of limitations in DC for wrongful death was one year, and then they extended it to two years. In Maryland, it’s three years. Both jurisdictions have a companion cause of action called a ‘survival action,’ which is based on the personal representative bringing a survival action on behalf of the estate, and that is for the causes of action that the deceased could have brought, had they lived. There’s the economic loss of the medical bills, there’s the non-economic loss of conscious pain and suffering, and, in addition to that, funeral bills.

Maryland has a statute of limitations for medical negligence that is three years from the discovery of the negligence but no later than five years, so there’s an absolute five year cap. DC essentially has a three year statute of limitations, so that’s a bit of a distinction in terms of the timing to be able to bring an action. In other types of negligence actions, both jurisdictions have a three year statute of limitations. In substantive law there are some nuances that are different, but mostly they’re very similar. The DC courts follow the federal procedural law, whereas Maryland has its own state procedural law, so there are definitely differences there in terms of the process, procedure, and rules that have to be followed in cases.

What Is Unique About Maryland Personal Injury Cases?

I would say the uniqueness of any jurisdiction is in knowing your jurisdiction, the judges, the juries, and how they do things. We have jury-verdict research tools at our disposal. Juries are a reflection of the community, so outcomes differ by community based on their particular values. With DC being a city and very urban, versus some rural or suburban counties of Maryland, there can be differences, and that’s important. It’s a matter of experience and knowledge and dealing in those jurisdictions, knowing the judges, the juries, and the outcomes of verdicts such that those are distinct and there can be very distinct differences in jurisdiction.

Importance of Local Experience in Personal Injury Cases

Regardless of where you’re licensed to practice, it’s a matter of experience because there’s nothing like being in the trenches, dealing with the judges and going before juries, to help you know what to expect. When you enter the litigation arena, there are some unknowns because every case is different, every jury panel is different, and every judge you go before is different, but the way of getting around all of that is to be doing it all the time and knowing from experience what to expect. Being local is incomparable because the knowledge base that you have is vital to the process.

We rely on outcomes, research, and other sources, but there’s nothing like being local, being part of the bar associations, and being part of activities that judges participate in because you’re before those people who make decisions and who are involved in the process. It’s important for a firm to do mock trials and do the jury-verdict research before they take a case, during the course of discovery in a case, and prior to trial. As a local lawyer you put all of this together in a comprehensive package that you bring to bear when you represent a client in each and every case.