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Request for a Jury Trial: Court Says Better Get It Right

I guess the summer is over. The Maryland Court of Appeals is back in business, issuing a number of appellate opinions over the last few weeks. First on our hit list is Duckett v. Riley, a medical malpractice case filed in Prince George’s County in 2003.

Anyway, every plaintiffs lawyer knows that when you file a personal injury lawsuit, you have to asked for a jury trial in a separate one line pleading. I can’t imagine leaving it off, but I always wonder in fear what would happen if I ever screwed up and left it off. Well, the plaintiff in Duckett v. Riley found out. The long and hard way.

Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, but did not put in the request for a jury trial. But the plaintiff did demonstrate an intent for a jury trial by checking the “Jury Trial Request” box on the civil information sheet. Defendants’ were not served with that information sheet. (This was – not for nothing – the first question asked of plaintiff’s counsel in oral arguments in the Court of Appeals.)

Defendant got the scheduling order and saw a jury trial had been set and objected. The motions’ judge in P.G. County agreed with the plaintiff. The case was then assigned to a trial judge – I think now retired Judge Thomas Smith – who had different ideas. Judge Smith concluded that the plaintiff had not properly requested a jury trial. He heard the case and entered a defense verdict. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed in an unreported opinion, finding that the purpose of Maryland Rule 2-325 – to place the opposing party on notice that a jury trial has been demanded – had been met.

The Court of Appeals saw the ultimate issue as whether the case information report is a paper or pleading as contemplated by Rule 2-325. Problem for plaintiff: both the Court of Special Appeals and even the plaintiff pretty much conceded that the plain meaning of “paper” Rule 2-325 does not include a civil case information report. So, framed this way, plaintiff was dead to rights.

I would have framed it a different way: Do we really want to let this little technicality get in the way of plaintiff’s right to a jury? What exactly was the harm to the defendant doctors? Did they begin to prep for a bench only trial? There is no prejudice and no harm. Just a lawyer’s mistake that probably cannot be rectified by a legal malpractice case because it would be virtually impossible to prove that the outcome would have been different if a jury trial had been pled. So the court knows when giving this unanimous opinion that the only victim here is the plaintiff.

You can find the court’s opinion here.

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  • Roger Mason

    Well, we have rules for a reason.