Friday, November 30, 2012

What's in a Number?

          One of the most concerning things to a party being sued is the amount of money he or she is being sued for (ad damnum).  It’s not at all unusual to see numbers ranging from $100,000.00 to $500,000.00 on cases with relatively minor impacts and injuries. 

While in some ways, the ad damnum is just a number pulled from the air by Plaintiff’s counsel, it can have some ramifications if a case goes to the jury.  If the jury returns a verdict for damages in excess of the ad damnum, Plaintiff’s counsel has to file a motion to amend the complaint with an ad damnum that reflects the jury verdict if Plaintiff wants the benefit of the higher damages award.  The judge has the sole discretion on whether or not to allow this.  Instead of facing the risk that a judge will not allow a Plaintiff to amend his or her complaint, Plaintiff’s counsel may make the strategic decision to ask for more than they think they could possibly recover, just in case. 

Beginning on January 1 2013, Maryland Rule 2-305 will no longer require a Plaintiff to specify the amount of damages he or she is seeking if that amount is in excess of $75,000.00. As a result of this, any suit where the Plaintiff seeks over $75,000.00, the simple phrase "...Plaintiff requests damages in excess of $75,000.00" is all that’s required. For amounts under $75,000.00, a Plaintiff must continue to plead the amount of damages he or she is seeking.  This change appears to benefit Plaintiffs and avoids the scenario in which a judge doesn’t allow an amended complaint after the jury verdict. 

In reality, it is unlikely that this revised Rule will have any impact on how cases are litigated.  Plaintiffs' attorneys will simply plead that the Plaintiff’s damages exceed $75,000.00 in every case, unless a Plaintiff is trying to prevent a Defendant from removing the case from state court to federal court (for federal diversity jurisdiction, the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000.00). 

Article contributed by Andy Nichols

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