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Jurisdiction For Personal Injury Lawsuits



Personal injury suits are usually filed in the state court in the county where the injury or accident occurred. Alternatively, suits are filed where the parties who were injured or caused the accident reside. The location of the court where the lawsuit is filed and the authority of the court to hear the suit are referred to as jurisdiction. So, if a resident of Wake County, N.C., for instance, is involved in a car accident that results in injuries to her in Raleigh, N.C., then she will typically file a suit in Wake County Superior Court.

The superior court is the appropriate forum if the damages claimed total more than $10,000, whereas Wake County District Court is the correct venue if the suit involves damages claimed totally less than $10,000. If damages are lower and fall below $5,000, then the small claims division of the district court is the appropriate jurisdiction.

Jurisdictional Analysis

Jurisdictional analysis is usually straightforward. However, the use of automobiles in modern society means people are far more mobile and travel more vastly. It is possible to have a personal injury suit in which the parties reside in multiple states. In such a situation, when the parties reside in different states and the case regards claimed damages in excess of $75,000, then the standard jurisdictional situation of filing in state court is no longer necessarily applicable. Instead, the personal injury suit may be filed in federal court, in the U.S. District Court, because federal jurisdiction is appropriate. Or, if a case is originally filed in state court, but the residency of the participants differs and damages claimed are in excess of $75,000, then the state case may be transferred to federal court. This process is referred to as removal to the federal court.

Issues of jurisdiction can become complicated and challenging. Some parties and/or their counsel believe that there are advantages to filing in a particular state or federal court as opposed to another. Whether those advantages are actual or perceived is open to debate, but this suggests that the jurisdictional analysis of a lawsuit deserves planning attention prior to initiating litigation.

Forum Shopping

Some parties engage in gamesmanship with jurisdictional analysis to cause inconvenience or added expense to others, to force settlement to avoid travel and inconvenience, to gain a stealth advantage of surprise, or to delay if a slower court or busier jurisdiction is selected as the filing forum. The term describing the process of selecting a jurisdiction in which to file amongst multiple potential applicable jurisdictions is called forum shopping. It is prudent to consult early with counsel on jurisdictional issues, whether the plaintiff initiating the suit or the defendant responding to same, as the options are more flexible and numerous the earlier decisions are made.

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