Maryland Jury Trial Ballot Measure Update
January 5, 2023
On Tuesday November 8 of 2022 Maryland voters voted to approve a constitutional amendment to increase the minimum amount in controversy that guarantees a jury trial from $15,000 to $25,000. Of all five ballot measures that passed, this measure passed with the lowest amount of support but still had 62% in favor and 30% against. This increase represents the third time the amount in controversy minimum has been raised, in 1992 a $5,000 minimum was established, in 2006 that amount raised to $10,000 and in 2010 the amount was increased to $15,000. The rationale behind the measure is that the cost to run and manage a jury system is rather significant which increased due to the COVID19 pandemic along with factoring for inflation.
The ballot measure will amend Article 5 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights which is part of the Maryland Constitution. The exact language of the ballot title read as follows:
Authorizing the General Assembly to enact legislation that limits the right to a jury trial in a civil proceeding to those proceedings in which the amount in controversy exceeds $25,000, excluding attorney’s fees if attorney’s fees are recoverable in the proceeding. Under current law, the amount in controversy must exceed $15,000 before a party to a proceeding may demand a jury trial. In cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed this threshold amount, a judge, rather than a jury, determines the verdict.
(Amending Maryland Declaration of Rights – Articles 5(a) and 23)
[ ] For the Constitutional Amendment
[ ] Against the Constitutional Amendment
The $30,000 amount in controversy limit for District Court was not amended as part of the ballot measure meaning that cases with amount in controversy between $25,000 and $30,000 have the option of remaining in District Court for a bench trial or being pled up to Circuit Court for a jury trial. The Maryland Association for Justice, whose members are primarily plaintiff’s attorneys supported the measure along with the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA). Richard Montgomery III, the director of Legislative and Governmental Relations for the MSBA argued that:
“The MSBA has found that civil claims with lower amounts in controversy cannot be litigated economically in the circuit courts. Generally, when those claims require testimony by medical experts, the high costs of those expert witnesses, as well as the expansive discovery in the circuit court combine make such cases unduly expensive to pursue. The result is that often plaintiffs with smaller claims face unfairly high barriers to justice. Given the ever-increasing costs associated with asserting medical claims, we believe the time has come to adjust the amount in controversy thresholds.”
The American Property Casualty Insurance Association Political Action Committee (Insuring America PAC), the Maryland Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, the Maryland Defense Counsel and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC all opposed the measure and issued papers outlining their opposition. ,,, Robert Glass, the president of the Maryland Association of Mutual Insurance Companies argued that:
“The enactment of this legislation would deprive many defendants in civil actions of the ability to remove an action from the District Court to the Circuit Court, where appropriate rules of discovery would be available. … We should also note that, in the majority of states, no threshold of any kind exists. Among those states that have thresholds, Maryland is an outlier, with one of the highest thresholds in the Nation. Increasing the threshold now –doubling it – would only upset this balance without a demonstrated need.”
The interesting division of opinions on the issue may be surprising to the average lay person because the organization that supports Plaintiff’s attorneys who represent people against larger corporations and insurance companies are in favor of limiting the right to a jury a trial and the Organizations representing the other side of the “V” in civil lawsuits, the Insurance Companies and corporations oppose the limitation of a right to a jury.
The defense organizations presented concerns about allowing larger cases between $15,000 and $25,000 to remain in District Court where the rules of discovery are limited that often result in challenges to mount a proper defense to case. Additionally, noting that Maryland joins a minority of states that have any jury trial threshold and will now be one of the highest in the country. Plaintiff’s attorneys, who typically are the strongest proponents of the jury system, raised concerns over the costs associated with prosecuting a small case that result in them not being able to take cases that do not have large damages which creates a barrier to the justice system for the majority of victims of negligence.
Tom Doran, managing partner here at, DeCaro Doran Siciliano Gallagher & DeBlasis LLP (DeCaro Doran), would have preferred that the legislature address the costs to litigate before depriving citizens of a right to have a jury of their peers decide their case. An additional concern for Doran, which appears to not have been argued by either side during the Maryland Assembly’s committee testimony the past February, is that the measure limits the opportunities for young lawyers to gain jury trial experience. Outside of the State’s Attorney’s offices and the Maryland Public Defender’s offices there are few options for young attorneys to gain jury trial experience and in order to prepare young lawyers for larger cases it is always preferred to get them experience with smaller cases first.
DeCaro Doran hopes that our legislature will consider permitting more discovery in District Court cases allowing for a fair and equitable resolution of those cases.