In Maryland, a person injured in a car accident can choose to sue the at-fault driver in one of two different court systems. First, one can elect to file suit in one of the Circuit Courts. Usually, more serious car accident or injury cases are filed in Circuit Court which is the larger claim court in Maryland. There are drawbacks to filing suit in Circuit Court with smaller claims. For example, you usually will need to have live testimony from a medical provider to render opinions concerning the nature and extent of your injuries. This can be expensive. A second drawback to filing in Circuit Court is that the litigation process takes much longer. It is not unusual for a Circuit Court case to take 8-13 months to get to trial from the date of filing suit.
As a result, many smaller cases are filed in the District Court of Maryland which allows for a recovery of up to $30,000.00. District Court cases moves quite quickly. It also allows car accident victims to avoid the expense of paying a medical provider to testify for them at trial by availing themselves of a statute that lets you submit medical records and bills (typically inadmissible hearsay) instead of live testimony. While you can use medical records in lieu of live testimony in Circuit Court too, you would have to limit your claim to $30,000.00 and risk a jury being persuaded by the live testimony of the doctor that the insurance company uses for trial. In essence, the District Court process is simply quicker and less expensive than Circuit Court.
However, there is a major obstacle that accident victims are forced to overcome in District Court. The Judges of the District Court see so many “soft tissue” cases i.e. cases involving muscle strains, whiplash, and shorter recovery periods, that they must all seem the same to the judges. Because the judges are desensitized to back strain like cases, it makes it more difficult to recover large, or even appropriate, amounts of compensation. Simply put, it is very hard to shock a judge with a muscle strain case these days no matter how aggravating the injuries are.
In my experience, the best way to impress a District Court judge with a sprain/strain case is to offer anecdotal evidence about the little things that your injury prevented you from doing. In one District Court case, I obtained an excellent recovery after eliciting testimony that my client was a workout fanatic, could not routinely exercise for 5 months, and as a result gained an unusual amount of weight. The judge realized how important my client’s exercise regimen was to him. Because my client proved he could not go to the gym regularly despite the incredible import of this routine to his life, the judge realized that this seemingly slight injury really affected my client’s life and gave appropriate compensation.