In its final day in session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that will place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to raise the jury prayer amount in civil cases in Maryland. Currently, any case pled in District Court in Maryland for more than $10,000 can be “bumped up” to a jury trial. This bill would increase that amount to $15,000.
Insurance companies commonly bump up small district court cases that are filed for more than $10,000. This practice leads to massive numbers of car accident cases before Maryland juries making it hard to argue that we are properly utilizing precious juror time.
Car insurance companies have, of course, historically opposed this bill. But this was not your classic “business v. trial lawyers” battle: a lot of support for the bill came from small businesses who do not like having to spend their resources on lawyers battling in Circuit Court that which could be fought much cheaper (for all parties to the litigation) in District Court.
Why, then, are car insurance companies opposed to this bill? You would think that they too want to save legal costs. But their motive is simple: they want to be able to threaten Maryland accident lawyers with the time and costs of going to trial if they will not press their clients to accept below market settlement offers.
What would have been great is if this bill had a cost of living escalator because in 10 years, $15,000 is going to be worth $7,500 and we will be back to the drawing board.
The bill is not law. The voters will have to approve this constitutional amendment in the fall. But I think it will pass. When I vote these state constitutional issues, I almost always vote “yes”. Why? Because given the absence of public debate that would make me more knowledgeable on the topic, I defer to the Maryland legislature figuring they put it on the ballot for a reason. If they put some crazy zoning issue on the ballot, I don’t know what it is about but assume it is for a good reason (again, given the absence of informed debate). I suspect most Maryland voters are like me and will do pretty much the same.