In Maryland, if a minor is injured, a claim is presented on behalf of the minor by the minor’s parents or guardians. Frequently, these claims are resolved before suit is even filed. Since minors cannot themselves execute binding releases, the defendants and sometimes even the parents or guardians require a judicial determination that the settlement is a final resolution of the minor’s claim so that the child cannot reassert the claim upon attaining the age of majority. Unfortunately, there is no uniform procedure or rule in Maryland to guide the parties or the courts in this regard. Sometimes, the parties will resort to a “friendly suit”, an actual lawsuit that is filed after settlement solely for the purpose of “adjudicating” the claim. Unfortunately, even if a friendly suit is filed, different jurisdictions within the state – and sometimes different judges within a particular jurisdiction – will handle it differently. In some jurisdiction, the court will require the parties to submit evidence supporting the claims and defenses followed by a formal hearing. In others, the court will hold an informal meeting in chambers and will “approve” the settlement. In others, the court will do nothing and the parties are left to file stipulations of dismissal with prejudice. Sometimes, the parties file consent judgments followed by orders of satisfaction. Without a uniform procedure, it is difficult to know whether any procedure, absent entry of judgment, will lead to a final resolution of a minor’s claim. Furthermore, the parties are always left to guess how a particular jurisdiction or judge will handle the matter.
Decades ago, the Maryland Court of Appeals established uniform rules of procedure and discouraged the use of local rules. The resolution of minor’s claims, however, continues to be an outlier, a perfect example of why “local rules”, even informal ones necessitated by the lack of a uniform process, cause confusion, delay and ineffective administration of justice. Here at Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew, we call for the creation of a simple set of procedures that, if followed, will lead to a prompt, effective and final resolution of claims by minors.