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Under Maryland law, a legally binding contract must be supported by consideration provided by both parties.  Consideration is something of value that is bargained for and received by a promisor from a promise. In practical terms, this means both parties have to be giving up something for there to be a valid contract. Let’s do a quick example to make sure we are reading off the same page.  You say you like my shirt.  I say I’ll give it to you if you like it that much.  Let me just wash it for you.  I change my mind.  We do not have a valid contract because you did not give or promise to give me anything of value. Let’s change it.  You say you like my shirt.  I say I’ll give it to you if you promise to drive me to the store to get myself a new one.  That offer to drive me to the store is valid consideration because you now have a bargained-for exchange, albeit maybe an unfair one.

Maryland Law on Contract Consideration

Under Maryland Commercial Law Article, Section 3-303(b), consideration is defined as any consideration sufficient to support a simple contract. Like many states, Maryland courts will not get bogged down in how valuable the consideration was or whether the deal is fair.  So unless there if foul play, Maryland courts will not inquire into the adequacy of value exacted for a promise so long as it has some value. Blumenthal v. Heron, 261 Md. 234, 274 A.2d 636 (1971).  Even $1 in consideration may be sufficient to form a contract under Maryland law.

Maryland’s state legislature is called the Maryland General Assembly. The General Assembly has an upper and lower house (just like the U.S. Congress and Senate) and members are elected to 4-year terms. The General Assembly meets annually for 3-month sessions at the begging of each calendar year (January to April). Any new laws that get passed in this session at the start of the year go into effect on the 1st of October. So, each year at the start of October Marylanders have to adjust to new laws and 2020 is no exception. Below, I summarize some more significant new Maryland laws that took effect on October 1st

Discrimination Based on Certain Race-Associated Hairstyles is Prohibited

Maryland law already prohibits racial discrimination in employment, housing, and other public services. Now a new amendment to this law will extend that prohibition against discrimination based on certain hairstyles that are commonly associated with African Americans. Hairstyles, specifically hair texture and afro hairstyles, are now included in the state’s definition of “race” for purposes of discrimination. This is one of the very first state laws of this type in the entire country. The law applies to all Maryland employers with 15 or more employees.

Whether a couple is married has so many social and legal implications.  So the question of whether Maryland recognizes common law marriage is an important and sometimes complex question.

Does Maryland Law Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Maryland law does not recognize common-law marriages. There are only ten states and the District of Columbia that still recognize common-law marriages.

But, and this is the key, if a valid common-law marriage has been created in a jurisdiction that recognizes common law marriages, the marriage is valid in Maryland.

If someone has wrongfully and intentionally caused you great emotional harm in Maryland, you may have a claim for the intentional inflection of emotional distress.

Maryland law, however, does not make it easy to bring an intention infliction of emotional distress claim.  To bring this tort, the plaintiff must demonstrate a “truly devastating effect” from the defendant’s behavior.  The emotional response must be so awful that “no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.”

What Are the Elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in Maryland?

The elements of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress in Maryland are: (1) the conduct is intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct is extreme and outrageous; (3) there is a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress is severe. In order for distress to be sufficiently severe to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, "the plaintiff must show that he suffered a severely disabling emotional response to the defendant's conduct, and that the distress was so severe that "no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.

Does Maryland Law Allow for Negligent Inflection of Emotional Distress Claims?

Maryland law does not recognize the independent tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress. But emotional distress is part of the plaintiff's damages in any case where there is an underlying tort, such as negligence.

As a personal injury lawyer, I get questions from people wanting to know if they can sue in various situations.  All of our attorneys do.  One of the questions we get most often is “can I sue if my dog gets attacked and injured by another dog?”

The emotional motivation is easy to understand, right? People really love their dogs and view them as full members of the family. If your beloved dog gets viciously attacked and injured or even killed by another dog right in front of you, it’s only natural to want some type of justice.

Our lawyers get this question so often is because dog-on-dog attacks are very common. According to the VCA, attacks by other dogs are the most common reason for emergency veterinarian care.

The statewide shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the economy and left thousands of Marylanders jobless. In the early stages of the pandemic shutdown, stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits enable many unemployed homeowners in Maryland to stay afloat financially. But as the economic sheltering continues more and more Marylanders are starting to run out of money and wondering how they are going to make their house payments.

Fortunately, both the federal government and the State of Maryland have enacted new laws and regulations to help struggling homeowners. This page will summarize all the current rules and programs that you need to know about it you are unable to make your house payments anymore.

Mortgage Relief and Foreclosure Protection for Federally Backed Loans

In Mayor of Baltimore City v. Prime Realty Assocs., L.L.C., the Court of Appeals of Maryland addressed the constitutional issue of notice and the opportunity to be heard.

Let me give you a quick summary and then we will dive deeper into it. The court addressed notice as it pertains to whether or not the method of substituted service upon the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) prescribed by Maryland Rule 3-124(o) satisfies a litigant’s due process rights. The court held that Prime Realty’s failure to update its resident agent’s address with the SDAT didn’t invalidate the City’s attempts of service or the City’s use of substituted service upon the SDAT, as prescribed in Rule 3-124(o).

Accordingly, the court found that Maryland Rule 3- 124(o) provides due process of law, and the circuit court erred in invalidating the order ratifying the sale of Prime Realty’s vacant building.

With hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases and increasing deaths worldwide, COVID-19 has quickly become the only topic of conversation.  I can no longer remember what we used to talk about. If you own a business, you have probably felt the effects of the pandemic more substantively.  We have. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear oral arguments in late July, about whether to consolidate and centralize lawsuits involving COVID-19 insurance coverage. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, many insurance carriers created policies made to include a vague virus exclusion as a reason for them not to cover businesses who have been paying insurance for years. Unfortunately, in most cases, insurance companies did not offer policies without this exclusion or the ability to buy virus coverage. On April 20, plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a motion to form an MDL. The motion filed in the Northern District of Illinois (and another was filed in Pennsylvania) alleges that there are two key issues that need to be decided in this litigation: business interruption cases turn on two questions: (1) whether COVID-19 causes “physical damage or loss to property” and, (2) whether the COVID was “present” on the insured property.  Those issues should be decided in one litigation for efficiency and for consistent rulings. The court has yet to decide whether to grant plaintiffs’ motion for an MDL class action. business interruption insurance

What Is the Benefit of Centralizing Claims and What Can I Expect?

The JPML will consider whether to consolidate both individual and class action lawsuits. The majority of these lawsuits surround the effect of the pandemic on business and insurance carriers. As a result of the pandemic, businesses have been outraged to find that their insurance refused to cover their losses, regardless of the policy. Most business owners who have filed a suit were under the impression that they were covered for the pandemic, because of their business interruption insurance. However, business interruption insurance policies typically only trigger if there’s a direct physical loss to property; they do not cover virus and bacteria. Insurance carriers in response have denied many claims, claiming that the virus was an exclusion in the coverage, written in the fine print of the policy. Various states have proposed legislation to resolve the situation. However, in the near future, there’s no immediate clarity for business owners or insurers.

With a growing number of complaints being filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, several parties filed a motion to transfer, asking the JPML to centralize the claims before one judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Centralizing the claims would promote a more efficient and universal process, while also avoiding duplicative discovery into similar issues presented by each case. Somewhat predictably, insurance carriers have filed an opposition to the establishment of consolidated proceedings altogether. On July 30, arguments will be presented through a videoconference due to the ongoing pandemic. It is likely that in the time leading up to the hearing, thousands of businesses who have suffered similar effects will likely look to file lawsuits as well. In complex litigation, where numerous claims regarding similar situations and similar injuries have occurred as a result of the same circumstance, it is common to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings.

What Should You Do if You Have Lost Income as a Result of COVID-19?

The most important first step for any person or business owner is to collect evidence that will allow you to file a business interruption claim. You want to talk to a lawyer quick. There could be notice provisions and other technicalities that could bar a future claim.

Gathering as much information as possible and contacting your insurance carrier will allow them to determine whether your claims are covered.  Most insurance carriers are not covering losses due to the pandemic which is why there will be litigation for years seeking coverage.  However, if a policyholder files a claim within the deadline requirements for first notice of losses, it allows you to still dispute the insurance carrier’s decision. Before the July hearing, there hasn’t been a binding decision from any court in the country that makes provisions and exclusions in the insurance contract enforceable, at least concerning COVID-19 claims. By following the strict deadline requirements, it may allow you to dispute the claim decision at a later date when there has been regulations or court precedent passed universally. Sample-Business-Interruption-2   Regardless of any virus exclusion policy, you may still recover some damages. It’s not clear whether the virus exclusion will be enforceable and there is currently nothing to make a clear distinction. Making sure that you’ve followed the requisite steps will all you to not be precluded from recovery in the future.

What Else Should I Do?

What started as a judicial question has moved to both the legislative and executive branches. Legislative bills that would require insurers to pay COVID-19 business interruption claims have been introduced in eight states so far. President Trump also pronounced his support for claims made by business owners who purchased insurance policies without any virus exclusions during an April 10 press briefing. It is an election year so politicians will be pandering to business owners. That is good for you.

These are certainly unprecedented times we are living in. Moving forward in the coming weeks business owners can expect more clarity. For now, you should stay safe and healthy and take some additional steps to help yourself later down the road.

  • Stay up to date – Following the latest consolidation hearings, regulations, and restrictions from state and federal governments. This will help you stay in compliance. Doing so, will not preclude you from recovery and allow you to plan for the future.
  • Review your policies –You should take some time to familiarize yourself with the remainder of your policy, as well as other exclusions that may apply to you or your business. Doing so, will keep you up to date and acutely aware of how your policy affects your circumstances. 

Metro Verdicts Monthly looks at median settlements and verdicts in all civil rights cases in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia since 1987.  (This data is a bit older but I think it is still accurate.) The median civil rights award in Maryland is $90,000. The median in Washington DC is $100,000. Incredibly, and I have no explanation for this, the median in Virginia is $200,000, over 100% greater than the civil rights verdicts and settlement in Maryland.

We know for sure that post-George Floyd, we will see a lot more of these. Because juries will be more inclined to believe the victim. The world is changing. Not fast enough. But it is changing.

The following is a sampling of verdicts and settlements that involve the violation of civil rights: