Naming and Substituting Party Names in a Maryland Car Accident Complaint

A Maryland car accident lawsuit begins with the filing of a complaint against one or more defendants. Filing pleadings against fictitious persons are known as “John Doe” pleadings. Maryland law does not specifically authorize John Doe pleadings. However, Maryland does permit parties to amend pleadings to add a party or correct an incorrectly named party in some circumstances.

What Is the Doctrine of Relation Back?

Maryland personal injury law allows parties amending pleadings to apply the doctrine of relation back by not barring the amended cause of action by the statute of limitations as long as the facts remain essentially the same after the amendment. So, for example, a party may be able to correct the name of an originally-named party, but not to add a new party. A recent case serves as a warning for those who fail to sufficiently investigate and properly name parties before filing a complaint.

According to the state court appellate opinion, in September 2016, a police officer saw a driver run two red lights without stopping, and a police chase ensued. Another officer who joined in the chase and was pursuing the driver drove against the flow of traffic and hit another driver head-on, killing him. The man’s personal representative sued the police officer driving the car, the city, and other named and fictitiously named parties. More than a year later, the representative amended the complaint to substitute the names of the other police officers involved in the chase for the fictitiously named defendants. The defendant officers argued that the amended complaint was not timely filed and was barred by the statute of limitations.

The court held that the plaintiff should have been able to identify the defendant officers by name when he filed his original complaint. The court explained that it seemed that the plaintiff never asked the named officers to identify the officers who were on duty that night or involved in the incident, or otherwise tried to determine the identities of those officers. The plaintiff or his attorney could have accessed the police department’s incident report through the court’s system, and which identified the officers involved. Thus, the court found the plaintiff failed to exercise due diligence by at least attempting to identify the additional officers, for example, by calling, emailing, or writing to the named officers. Therefore, the court held that the claims against the additional officers were barred by the statute of limitations.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident?

If you have been injured recently in a Maryland car accident, have your case evaluated by an experienced personal injury lawyer. The Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, represents injury victims and their families in all types of accident claims, including those arising from car accidents, wrongful death claims, premises liability, and medical malpractice. They will review your options with you and negotiate on your behalf with the other parties and insurance companies to ensure that your needs are met as appropriately and quickly as possible. To set up a free initial consultation, call (800) 654-1949 or contact them online.

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