In Maryland, when you've been involved in a slip-and-fall, a car accident, or any other incident where someone else's conduct caused you harm, you may be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for this type of case. (As background, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court.)
In this article, we'll cover the details of Maryland's personal injury statute of limitations, explain why the deadline is so important, and summarize a few instances when the filing period might be extended.
The statute of limitations that affects most personal injury lawsuits in Maryland is spelled out at Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-101, which says: "A civil action at law shall be filed within three years from the date it accrues." This general deadline applies to the filing of most lawsuits seeking a legal remedy for personal injury resulting from an accident. That includes cases driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to claims filed after most car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and other mishaps).
So, if another person's careless (but unintentional) act has caused you injury, and you want to ask a Maryland court for a civil remedy (damages) for your losses, you have three years to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying accident (that's the date on which the lawsuit "accrues" for purposes of section 5-101).
Note: In Maryland, certain other cases involving harm by intentional action (such as civil lawsuits over assault and defamation) are subject to a shorter, one-year filing deadline, according to Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 5-105.
If more than three years have passed since the accident that led to your injuries, but you try to file your personal injury lawsuit anyway, the defendant will almost certainly ask the court to dismiss your case. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (we'll discuss a few of these exceptions later), the court will grant the dismissal.
Maryland's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously a key consideration if you want to take your injury case to court by way of a formal lawsuit, but the statutory filing deadline is also crucial to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. Three years is a long time, but if you've allowed it to pass without getting your lawsuit filed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage. After all, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat when that same court is no longer an option for your dispute.
Maryland has identified a number of different scenarios that might delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the filing deadline.
For example, if the injured person is under a legal disability at the time of the underlying accident (he or she is under the age of 18 or has been declared mentally incompetent), the three-year clock doesn't start running until the period of disability ends (meaning the injured person turns 18 or is declared competent). Note that the injured person's imprisonment or absence from the state won't count as a legal disability in Maryland. This rule can be found at Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 5-201.
Another opportunity to extend the deadline may exist if the defendant (the person responsible for the underlying accident) takes steps to fraudulently conceal his or her liability from the injured person. In this situation, the three-year statute of limitations "clock" won't start running until the injured person discovers, "or by the exercise of ordinary diligence should have discovered" the fraud. (Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings section 5-203.)
If you have questions about how the Maryland statute of limitations applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline is fast-approaching or has already passed -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney.