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Where to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Whether you were out of state on vacation or turning at a stop sign by your home when you got in an accident, accidents always happen suddenly and without warning. After sustaining injuries, you may quickly realize that the insurer will do whatever it takes to minimize or outright deny your claim. A personal injury lawsuit may need to be filed to stop their intentional delays or outright refusal to negotiate. But where do you file? Do you file in your state or in the one where you got hurt? And which court should file your action: state or federal?
 
These are complicated questions to answer and require expert legal advice from the start of the process. At Morgan & Morgan, we are here to provide crucial guidance and representation to avoidable delays and unfair denials. Read on to learn more about jurisdiction for your personal injury lawsuit and how we can help.

Types of Jurisdiction in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

When filing a personal injury lawsuit, you have to figure out which court has jurisdiction and submit your case there. Jurisdiction is what gives it the authority to listen and rule on your case.
 
Below are the two primary types of jurisdiction that apply to your suit:

  •       Personal jurisdiction - references a court that can make personal decisions about the defendant that are binding. This doesn't apply to every court but to that which has authority in the matter at hand.
  •       Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the "topic" of the suit you have brought. A court cannot hear cases from across multiple law areas. This is why we have civil and criminal matters in separate jurisdictions. For example, personal injury suits are civil matters and cannot be heard in criminal court.

Knowing if the court you file your claim at has both personal and subject matter jurisdiction can be challenging. Often, the clerk's office won't be able to answer that question either because it constitutes giving legal advice, which they aren't allowed to do. This makes seeking a reputable attorney for your case essential.

Can a Court Have Personal Jurisdiction Automatically?

Personal jurisdiction is vital for many reasons, mainly because it protects defendants from other areas of state law that don't govern the behavior from taking action against them. Below are the conditions a defendant must meet for a court to have automatic personal jurisdiction over them:

  •       Resides in the state of the court, or,
  •       Were physically in the state when served notice of the personal injury lawsuit against them

A good example would be if a Florida resident rear-ended you while on vacation in the same state. But you're from Michigan. In this situation, the defendant's home state of Florida would have jurisdiction because they reside in the state and subject to its laws.
 
What if the opposite occurs? You were injured by someone from Michigan while they were driving in Orlando, Fl, and you live in North Carolina. In this case, Michigan courts would have automatic personal justice over the defendant because they live there.
 
Keep in mind that you may decide you don't want to file your suit in either Florida or Michigan in the last scenario because you don't reside in either state. However, if the defendant happens to be present in your home state of North Carolina voluntarily, you could serve them with your personal injury suit. Doing this gives personal jurisdiction to the state.

Long-arm Statutes and Personal Injury Suit Jurisdiction

When a state extends its personal jurisdiction to defendants who are not residents but have voluntary contact with said state, this is known as a long-arm statute.
 
Examples of voluntary contact in a state that satisfies the requirements of personal jurisdiction include:

  •       Conducting business transactions of any kind
  •       Committed acts of negligence
  •       Owns or uses a property
  •       Insurance contracts on a person or property
  •       Has a marital home
  •       Conceives or has a child

To be considered sufficient contact with a state, any of these must occur within its borders by the defendant. To better understand how this works, the example below illustrates:
 
Let's say you are from Michigan, but you were injured by a negligent driver in Illinois who is a state resident. Your home state of Michigan has a long-arm statute that makes it possible for your local court to assume personal jurisdiction over your case, even though the defendant is from Illinois, so long as one of the circumstances above applies to them.
 
However, if the defendant in your lawsuit has never set foot in Michigan nor had any qualifying contact with the state either, it's more challenging.

Things to Consider When Deciding Where to File Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

When figuring out what jurisdiction applies to your case, you may find that the defendant could be subject to personal jurisdiction in your home state and their own. So, how do you decide where to file in this situation? Different states have different personal injury laws and compensation opportunities. When making this decision, there are two significant factors to consider that could greatly impact the compensation you receive:

The Convenience of the Jurisdiction

Before submitting your personal injury suit paperwork for filing, have you considered whether it is convenient or not to do so? The following are things to consider first:

  •       Your state would likely award you more damages
  •       You don't want to work with an out-of-state lawyer
  •       Personal injury law favors the plaintiff more than the defendant in your home state
  •       You want to avoid traveling out-of-state for court hearings
  •       State laws in your state have a longer statute of limitations for filing personal injury claims

Fairness of the Jurisdiction

When determining jurisdiction, keep in mind that courts will consider a defendant's request to have their own local courts take jurisdiction. This often occurs when a plaintiff got hurt in the home state of the at-fault party, and all the witnesses are in the defendant's state. It's ultimately up to the court if your choice to sue from within your state and not the plaintiff's is fair.
 
At Morgan & Morgan, we will carefully review the details of your personal injury case and explain the pros and cons of the states involved and recommend which jurisdiction is more favorable to you.

Determining a Court's Subject Matter Jurisdiction

After figuring out which state you should file based on your personal injury attorney's advice, you then need to decide if your case is a state or federal matter. Knowing which court is appropriate to hear the subject matter of your claim is crucial.
 
State courts often have subject matter jurisdiction automatically since they have the authority to decide most claims brought before them. Typically, you need to meet the following conditions to qualify your claim to be heard in a federal courthouse under diversity jurisdiction guidelines:

  •       All parties involved are from different states, and,
  •       Your damage claim exceeds $75,000

This means, if you live in Michigan and the negligent driver that struck you is from Illinois, your suit asks for over $75,000 in damages, and you qualify for diversity jurisdiction, you could go to federal court.
 
Another thing to keep in mind regarding federal injury suits is that you still need to file in a federal court located in the state that has personal jurisdiction over the matter. Also, the defendant in your action may decide to petition for the case to be moved to a different jurisdiction.
 

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