Maryland Car Accident Laws

The statutory deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Maryland's courts, and the state's plaintiff-unfriendly "contributory negligence" rule.

By , J.D. ● University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 9/14/2021

If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged in a Maryland traffic accident, there are a few state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, including:

  • the three-year deadline for filing most car accident lawsuits in Maryland's civil court system, and
  • Maryland's plaintiff-unfriendly "contributory negligence" rule, which bars financial recovery if the claimant was even partly responsible for causing the car accident.

That's the big picture in Maryland. Now, let's look at the details.

The Maryland Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.

As is the case in most states, the statute of limitations that affects car accident lawsuits in Maryland is usually the same as the larger one that applies to almost all personal injury claims. Specifically, Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-101 says that a civil lawsuit for personal injury "shall be filed within three years from the date it accrues."

That's just another way of saying that a plaintiff has three years to get the initial complaint filed in court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the injury. (Note: Keep in mind that if someone dies as a result of the accident and their family wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the deadline is still three years, but the "clock" starts on the date of the person's death, which can be different from the date of the accident.)

So, after a crash, the three-year deadline applies to all lawsuits for car accident injuries or vehicle damage, whether the claim is made by a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian.

(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

If you try to file your lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it's crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.

Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you're running up against the filing deadline, you might want to contact an experienced Maryland car accident attorney.

Contributory Negligence in Maryland Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a Maryland car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was mostly responsible for the accident—but that you share part of the blame. What happens next? How does this finding affect your right to compensation?

Under Maryland's "contributory negligence" rule, you cannot receive money damages if you are found to have played even the slightest part in causing the accident. You can't recover any compensation at all from the other driver, in other words. (Only a handful of states follow the "contributory negligence" rule. Most states use what's known as "comparative negligence," which allows an at-fault driver to recover some damages as long as he or she is not more than 50 percent responsible for the crash.)

Not only does the contributory negligence rule bind Maryland judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, so if it looks like you share any amount of blame or the accident, get ready for the adjuster to play hardball during settlement negotiations.

Even though this is a tough rule, don't let it prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to a Maryland attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

Maryland Car Insurance Requirements

In almost every Maryland car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Maryland's car insurance rules.

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