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Who Determines Compensation In A Baltimore Personal Injury Case?

Anyone who has sustained a bodily injury at the hands of another, through no fault of their own, and due to the negligence of that other actor, has an innate sense they are entitled to “justice”, compensation and some recognition of wrongdoing. In any Baltimore car accident case, or other personal injury matter, the amount of that compensation will be set to be determined by one of three people or entities.

  • The injured person
  • A Baltimore district court judge
  • A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury

Financial compensation, as the result of any personal injury event in Baltimore, is referred to in the law as “damage” or “damages”. Damages are typically thought of, in this context, as an amount of money that would be sufficient to make the injured person “whole” because of losses sustained in the accident. Those losses typically come in two forms: economic and non-economic. These topics are explored in greater detail in other articles. Suffice it to say here the economic damages are things such as lost wages, and the payment of medical expenses. Non-economic damages on the other hand, are fixed after consideration of such things as disfigurement, embarrassment, aggravation, and physical or emotional anguish and turmoil.

The curious reader will immediately want to know how an injured person can “set” the amount of money they are to receive as a result of their Baltimore personal injury claim. Such claims will resolve in only one of two ways- by court action or by amicable settlement. Most personal injury cases resolve at some point through a settlement between the parties. The scenario here is that an insurance company, through a process of negotiation with the plaintiff’s personal injury attorney, made an offer, or a series of offers. If the injured person, after close consultation with their chosen counsel, decides to accept that offer, this is a binding contract. By their acceptance, the injured person, or “plaintiff” has set the amount of their compensation by agreeing to it.

The second method by which compensation is determined is by Baltimore City District Court judge. Here, the case has gone to trial. In a Baltimore city car accident trial, the Judge will act as both the finder of fact, and will also determine the amount of damage. In other words- that judge will determine who is responsible for the accident, and, if he or she finds in favor of the Plaintiff, will set the amount of compensation that Plaintiff is to recover. There are advantages to proceeding in District Court that are discussed elsewhere. The thing that I advise clients to keep in mind is that in a district court case, one person is making the decision. How that jurist- tempered by their years of experience on the bench and the hundreds or perhaps thousands of personal injury cases they have previously handled while practicing as an attorney-  views such cases will guide and inform that judge on what is appropriate compensation.

The final scenario is where an injured plaintiff has opted to try their case before a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury. A jury consists of six Baltimore city residents who have been licensed to drive and have registered to vote. Circuit court case jurors will hear the evidence, and determine who is at fault. If they find in favor of the plaintiff, they will set the amount of compensation to be awarded. In this determination, jurors, too, will be guided by their own experiences, as well as their perceptions of both the injured person, and the defendant or defendants. The arguments of the parties’ respective personal injury lawyers may also play a role. In a circuit court case, the jury would also be instructed on the applicable law by the judge presiding over the trial. Jurors are told of the various factors they should consider and some enumerated components that could comprise an award for non-economic damages, as well as other variables they may consider in determining what they think is fair under the circumstances.

There are other variations on the themes discussed here. For example, some might argue that, in reality, settlement software sets the amount of non-economic damages because that’s what an insurance company will base its offer on. While this is no doubt true, the amount of compensation is not fixed and set until it is accepted by an injured plaintiff, and their chosen Baltimore personal injury lawyer. Some might also ask “what about an appeal?” If an injured person is aggrieved or finds themselves less than satisfied with a result in District Court, they may appeal to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Likewise, an individual, not satisfied with the results handed down by a jury may appeal that determination to  The Appellate Court of Maryland. If a case is appealed and affirmed on appeal, the judge’s or jury’s decision stands. If it is reversed on appeal, typically the case would be remanded for a new trial, where the amount of compensation would still be fixed by a jury or a judge. It would only be in a most truly exceptional case, that an appellate court would fix the amount of compensation.

One final observation. Recall- the first scenario where an injured person sets the amount of their compensation. Whether that is the result of more or less informal negotiations between attorney and insurance adjuster, or between lawyer and lawyer, or the result of more formal negotiations that would occur in the result of a settlement conference, or a mediation conference, the guiding principle here is still the same: in settlements the plaintiff controls football. The plaintiff is on offense and has the ball. They can settle. They cannot settle and proceed to court. If the plaintiff chooses to settle, they understand and know the amount they are to receive. There is no guesswork. There is nothing left for a judge or jury to decide. There is no anxiety. The amount is certain and agreed to.

Make no mistake- settlement is not appropriate in every case. I routinely advise clients when litigation is necessary, and take the case to trial. Your chosen personal injury attorney will give you advice in guidance on what a likely outcome in court could be, or in my practice, a range of likely outcomes. The decision, though,  to take one’s chances at trial, or to accept a settlement, ultimately rests where it should-in the hands of the injured person.