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After A Maryland Car Accident, How Long Do I Have To Hire A Personal Injury Attorney?

I'm often asked this question, and frequently in connection with other questions surrounding Maryland personal injury cases which arise from automobile accidents. The victims of negligence will ask if there is a time limit within which an injured person must hire an attorney to handle a Maryland car accident claim.  Another common question is if there is a time limit within which an injured person must seek out medical care for their personal injuries. I'm also often asked if there is a time frame or a deadline by which an injured person must report the claim to an insurance company.

While there are no time limits imposed by law or regulation on the hiring of an attorney there is an ultimate deadline imposed by Maryland law governing the bringing of a claim.

In Maryland, the statute of limitations for actions involving claims of negligence –which the overwhelming majority of car accident claims do- must be brought within 3 years as of the date of the accident. Substantive Maryland law requires that an action actually be filed in thecourt of appropriate jurisdiction within three years from the date of the event. Moreover, if the claim is one involving governmental entities such as the State of Maryland, or local branch of government, there are specific notice requirements that must be fulfilled in addition to in general statute of limitations. For example, if the claim is one involving allegations of negligence against a State of Maryland employee there are specific notice requirements the dictate that the State receive proper notification of the claim within one year from the happening of the injury-causing event. If the claim is one involving allegations of negligence against an employee of an entity that is considered a local government under Maryland law, then notice must be given within 12 months of the happening of the injury provoking event. Similarly, if the claim is one involving the government of other states, or of the United States, there are specific notice requirements that must be satisfied prior to the filing of a lawsuit in addition to the statute of limitations. Within those general confines, there are no specific time requirements within which one must hire a personal injury attorney. In theory, an injured person could wait until one day before the running of the statute of limitations [for claims not involving governmental entities] and that lawyer could, theoretically, rush to the courthouse and file a lawsuit before the close of business on that day. In most applications, an experienced injury attorney is frankly unlikely to take as case on the day be fore the statute of limitations expires. Some reasons are obvious, some might not be. If the defendant is not named properly, the lawsuit might be lost before it ever began. There are other reasons why hiring the lawyer at or near the expiration of the negligence statute of limitations makes little or no sense. 

Although this might be possible, there are some practical reasons why it doesn't make sense to delay in this fashion. It just makes sense to hire experienced personal injury counsel as quickly after the accident as feasible.

By hiring a lawyer early in the process, the injured person has the benefit of the guidance and wisdom of that attorney from an early stage. The injured person, due to that management, could potentially avoid making mistakes that may later haunt the claim. Having an attorney involved early in the process allows that attorney to gather and preserve evidence important in the prosecution of the claim. While some evidence, e.g. medical records might be gathered at a later date, other types of evidence, e.g. surveillance footage that may have captured the relevant event, might be discarded by the entity that recorded the footage after a certain time period has elapsed. Its is actually somewhat common for many surveillance footage devices to "loop" or record over prior data at regular intervals, e.g. 30 days.  It unfortunately  frequently does little good for an injured person to say "pull the video" two years after a loss. Odds are high that this needed evidence is long, long gone. It is therefore vital that a car accident and personal injury attorney take steps to preserve that evidence which may otherwise be lost. It is only where that attorney is involved in the process from a very early stage that these appropriate steps and safeguards may be undertaken.

Additionally, having an experienced personal injury attorney working on the case from its inception may allow for the possibility of a pre-suit resolution to the claim without the expenses and delays associated with litigation. So, while there are no specific legal requirements dictating when an injured person must retain a personal injury lawyer there are a variety of practical reasons the dictate that such an attorney should be involved in the personal injury claim as quickly as possible.

     -This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 10/21/20. 

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