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Maryland Personal Injury Lawyers Must Follow Maryland Tort Claims Act

When representing a client who my have a potential claim for personal injury against the State of Maryland, Maryland personal Injury lawyers must place the state on proper notice within six months of the incident. Failure to do so could bar any recovery under Maryland law.

Although the doctrine of sovereign immunity generally precludes an action for damages against the State of Maryland, its agencies, or officials, the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) provides for waiver of that immunity in cases of “tortuous acts or omissions committed within the scope of the public duties of state personnel, and committed without malice or gross negligence.”

The MTCA requires that the injured individual “may not institute an action . . . unless: (1) the claimant submits a written claim to the Treasurer or a designee of the Treasurer within 1 year after the injury to the person . . . ; (2) the Treasurer or designee denies the claim finally; and (3) the action is filed within 3 years after the cause of action arises.” MD. CODE ANN., STATE GOV’T § 12-102
In addition, the notice requirement provides the State with early notice of a potential claim, which allows the Treasurer, upon receipt of timely notice, to . . . consider[] the fiscal consequences of the claim, and then decide[] which of several options to pursue. As a result of the early notice required under the MTCA, the Treasurer also has “the opportunity to investigate the claims while the facts are fresh and memories vivid, and, where appropriate, settle them at the earliest possible time.

Finally, Section 12-107 of the State Government Article of the Maryland Code, regarding the form of notice, provides:
(a) Form. – A claim under this subtitle shall:
1. contain a concise statement of facts that set forth the nature of the claim, including the date and place of the alleged tort;

2. demand specific damages;
3. state the name and address of each party;
4. state the name, address, and telephone number of counsel for the claimant, if any; and
5. be signed by the claimant, or the legal representative or counsel for the claimant.

Because the purpose of the statute is to enable the State to conduct an investigation into the underlying circumstances of the claim, and because courts are mandated to construe the MTCA broadly, plaintiffs are not required to submit a notice that exactly mirrors the form set forth in §12-107. This Court, likewise, should construe the MTCA notice requirements broadly in order to provide Plaintiffs a remedy, as envisioned by the General Assembly, and deny Defendant DJS’s Motion to Dismiss.

Often times, we see Maryland personal injury lawyers initially give substantial notice, but do not follow-up in a request by the state for additional information. The Maryland courts have held, in these instances, “If the purpose of the statute is fulfilled, the manner of the accomplishment of the fulfillment has not generally been tested too technically. In such cases substantial compliance generally is held to be enough.” Conaway v. State, 90 Md.App. 234, 243, 600 A.2d 1133, 1137 (1992) Additionally, “[t]he purpose of the {notice requirement} is to inform the state agency of the circumstances surrounding the incident so that it can investigate, determine its possible liability, and prepare a defense to a claim.”

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has held that a “notice of claim” substantially complied with the MTCA requirements in a case where the claimant failed to make a specific demand for damages, and when the facts of the underlying incident already would have been well known to the government. See Conaway, 90 Md.App. at 237, 600 A.2d at 1134. Conaway involved a State prisoner’s claim against the State for alleged negligent medical care received while he was in prison. Id. The prisoner filed a timely notice of claim with the State, however, his claim did not make a demand for specific damages. Id. The State ultimately denied the prisoner’s claim on the basis that the prisoner’s notice of claim did not meet the MTCA’s requirements because it lacked a demand for specific damages. Id. The prisoner then filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

The Court examined at length the purpose and legislative intent behind the MTCA and determined that, despite the claimant’s failure to demand specific damages, the notice of claim provided the State with sufficient information to enable the State to investigate the underlying incident, and therefore, served the purpose of the MTCA. Id. at 249-50, 600 A.2d at 1140. The Court of Special Appeals found significant that, “[i]n this case, the plaintiff was at all relevant times a ward of the government; the fact nature and extent of his injuries were well known to the government; [and] the medical data regarding [the claimant]’s injuries were peculiarly in control of the government . . . .” Id.

In contrast, Maryland courts typical will hold that a claimant’s notice does not substantially comply with the MTCA’s requirements where the claimant failed to provide the notice within the statutorily prescribed period. In these cases, the claimants, for various reasons, failed to provide notice to the State, or if they did provide notice, it was provided to the wrong state entity. See, e.g., Barbre, 402 Md. 157, 935 A.2d 699 (holding that the claimant did not expressly or substantially comply with the MTCA’s notice requirements where claimant submitted timely notice to a County Commissioner rather than the Treasurer or a Treasurer designee.); Simpson v. Moore, 323 Md. 215, 228-29, 592 A.2d 1090, 1096 (1991)(holding that the claimant did not substantially comply with the MTCA’s notice requirements where the claimant filed an action in State court without first providing timely notice to the Treasurer of the possibility of such a claim.); State v. Cope, 175 Md.App. 351, 374-75, 927 A.2d 426, 440 (2007) (holding that the claimant’s notice to the State, with respect to her survival action, did not substantially comply with the MTCA’s notice requirements because she claimant did not submit a written claim within the one-year required period.).

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