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Federal judge allows nephew’s claim against uncle’s estate to proceed

A teenager injured in a motorcycle accident that killed his uncle was timely in filing a federal lawsuit to make a claim on his uncle’s estate, a federal judge has ruled.

Richard J. Clark suffered “serious bodily injuries” after the motorcycle he was riding driven by his uncle, Charles, hit the median and went airborne in Colorado in July 2013, according to court documents. Charles Clark was a Baltimore resident, and Richard Clark filed a claim with his uncle’s estate in Baltimore City Orphans’ Court in October 2013, according to court documents.

The claim sought more than $1 million – $850,000 for “pain and suffering liability” and $160,000 in medical bills, according to court documents. The claim was disallowed April 30, 2014; Richard Clark, a New Jersey resident, filed a lawsuit against the estate 20 days later in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Laurie Ann Garey, an Owings Mills lawyer for Progressive Insurance, which had insured Charles Clark, asked Judge William D. Quarles Jr. to throw out the lawsuit because it was filed beyond the statute of limitations, which would limit Richard Clark’s recovery to his uncle’s liability insurance policy limit of $50,000.

Adam M. Spence, a lawyer for Richard Clark, argued that everything filed followed the required timeline, meaning Clark would be eligible to recover money from the estate in addition to the insurance. Charles Clark’s estate listed approximately $70,000 in inventory, according to orphans’ court records.

The arguments over timeliness highlight the variety of claims and claims processes involving an estate, said Michael T. Wyatt, an estates and trusts lawyer in Towson.

“This landscape is full of procedural traps and contradictions,” said Wyatt, of Marlow & Wyatt.

One universal rule is that any claims against a decedent must be filed within six months of the person’s death. But Garey argued state law required Richard Clark, as a survivor of the accident, to file a civil action against the estate, not a claim. Richard Clark’s lawsuit was filed 10 months after the accident and therefore after the statute of limitations expired, argued Garey, an in-house lawyer for Progressive Insurance based in Owings Mills.

“Thus, the filing of the claim in Orphans’ Court did not toll the time period within which Plaintiff was required to file an ‘action’ in order pursue a recovery above and beyond the liability policy of insurance held by the Decedent,” Garey wrote in the motion for summary judgment.

Spence countered the orphans’ court claim was permissible and that Garey “ignores a two-tiered limitation statute” for estate claims under Maryland law. Richard Clark had six months to file a claim and then 60 days from when the claim was disallowed to file suit, argued Spence, of The Law Offices of Spence & Associates P.C. in Towson.

The lawsuit “was filed ‘within 60 days after the mailing of notice by the personal representative,’” Spence wrote in opposing summary judgment, quoting state law. “Indeed, this ‘action against the personal representative’ was filed within 21 days of the Notice of Disallowance.”

Quarles, in his ruling March 3, said Richard Clark could file a claim and that both the claim and lawsuit were filed before the statutes of limitations expired.

Glenn M. Anderson, head of the estates and trusts practice at Miller, Miller & Canby Chtd. in Rockville, said Quarles’ ruling was the first of its kind he had seen in federal court.

“If you understand the general scheme the General Assembly had envisioned, the court made the right ruling,” said Anderson, who was not involved in the case.

Wyatt added the ruling provides clarification on claim’s such as Richard Clark’s.

“They navigated the gantlet,” Wyatt said.

Spence said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“We will try to work with opposing counsel of the estate to reach a resolution now that this issue has been addressed,” he said.

Garey did not respond to requests for comment.

The case is Clark, et al., v. Clark, 1:14-cv-01637-WDQ.