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 – 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? Jury trials have a pretty important history in our country, right? Shouldn’t we bend this the right way? 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. Wouldn’t it be better to let fairness have its day.
You can find the court’s opinion here.
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