The Impact of an Attorney Settling or Receiving a Verdict on a Property Damage Claim on Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Claim in Maryland

I received an email from a personal injury lawyer in Baltimore last night asking about a liability dispute case the lawyer has. I thought I would respond to him in today’s blog.

This lawyer’s client filed suit pro se for his property damage claim, which will be heard next month in Baltimore City District Court. The lawyer knows that you can settle a property damage claim and later file an action for bodily injuries. See Maryland Insurance Article Section 12-306(2). So the lawyer’s preference is to stay out of the property damage case and let the client move forward on his own.

But there is a res judicata effect to a judgment on the merits of the property damage case. If the client gets a verdict in the property damage case, his personal injury case will be barred (assuming there is no jurisdictional barrier to prevent the plaintiff from bringing all of his claims in the property damage case).

The rule against splitting a cause of action does not mean that a plaintiff may never split a cause of action. It means that if a cause of action is split, certain consequences may follow. A person involved in a motor vehicle accident may incur both personal injuries and property damages. This plaintiff may bring an action for one aspect of damages and not the other, but the prosecution of that action to judgment will preclude a subsequent action for the remaining type of damage. See Jones v. Speed, 320 Md. 249, 259 (1990).

This prohibition against splitting a cause of action is because Maryland courts want to avoid the costs and expenses that will come with more than one lawsuit on the same set of facts. While I am sure this is not the news this lawyer wanted to hear, this rule makes sense. Accordingly, the lawyer’s best option now is to file a motion in the client’s property damage case seeking to dismiss the case without prejudice. Another option would be to file a case in Baltimore City Circuit Court along with a motion for consolidation.

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