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Ad Damnum Amount in Complaint: Different Rules in Maryland and Virginia

Sandy Waterman’s Virginia Injury Attorney Blog points out that under Virginia law, Virginia injury lawyers can mention the ad damnum amount – the amount sought by Plaintiff’s lawyer in the complaint.

The problem with this rule is that it uses accident lawyers’ form requests which usually seek as much as the law would allow to be used to create the appearance of a greedy plaintiff.   When juries see a large ad damnum clause, studies show it lower awards, reversing the anchoring effect of a large number.  The reason for this is obvious.  Jurors want reasonable parties and reasonable lawyers.  If you got out on a $50 million ledge in your Complaint, you can bet the jury will it against you if they find out about it.

Maryland accident lawyers who play it smart do not face this problem. Maryland courts have routinely granted our accident lawyers’ motion in limine to exclude the amount sought in the ad damnum clause by citing Merzbacher v. State, 346 Md. 391, 396 (Md. 1997):

…I think it could unfairly mislead the jury because we all know that she can sue for ten billion dollars too if you want to do that. There is no limit to the ad damnum clause in a civil suit and if I’m willing to admit that, to let them come in and say yes, it’s in the hundred and forty million dollar range or so forth I would feel obligated to have testimony brought before the jury as to the way the ad damnum cause is handled by lawyers now in the State of Maryland, that there is no limit to what you can sue for and that the numbers for all intents and purposes mean nothing and I think it would allow–I think it would be unfairly prejudicial for the jury to feel that this is what she is really seeking, she is really, really trying to get a hundred and forty million dollars. I think it would be unfair and prejudicial.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey judges also routinely grant similar motions.

Some states, like West Virginia, have banned – at least in some contexts – ad damnum clauses in lawsuits because they are used unfairly by both lawyers and the media reporting on accident lawsuits.

2018 Update

In 2012, we revised our ad damnum law in Maryland to get rid of the ridiculous demands for millions of dollars in plaintiff’s complaint.  Not the law is that you just ask for appropriate economic damages.

Naturally, many Maryland lawyers have not gotten the memo and have continued to make outlandish demands in their ad damnum clause.  This is foolish but, ultimately, probably harmless unless the plaintiff fails to file a motion in limine to keep in out of evidence.