Out of State Injuries and Lawsuits
Everyone travels out-of-state at some point. It may be to go on vacation or visit relatives for the holidays. It may even be to travel to work every day. But accidents and injuries can happen anywhere at any time.
If you have been in an accident or injured while in another state, you may have questions about where you should file a lawsuit:
- In which state should I file?
- Should I file in state or federal court?
- Where is it most convenient and fair to file?
If you have been injured in another state, the attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, can help you determine where and how to file your lawsuit.
Determining Which Court Has Jurisdiction When Multiple States Are Involved
Ultimately, where you file your lawsuit will depend on which court has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is a court’s power to listen to and make a ruling about your claim. There are two types of jurisdiction that a court must have before you can file a lawsuit:
- Personal jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction refers to the court’s power to make decisions about the defendant, personally. Not every court can make a rule that the defendant has to follow—only courts with personal jurisdiction over that defendant can issue rulings that bind that person.
- Subject matter jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the court’s power to hear and decide a particular type of lawsuit or claim. If a court does not hear cases involving the subject matter of your claim, then the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction and you must file your claim in a different court.
When you’re filing a claim, you must file it in a court that has both personal and subject matter jurisdiction.
When Does a Court Have Automatic Personal Jurisdiction?
A court has personal jurisdiction when it has the authority to make decisions that affect the defendant’s rights and obligations. The law is concerned with personal jurisdiction because it wants to protect defendants from being pulled into court in a state whose laws don’t normally govern the defendant’s behavior. A court has automatic personal jurisdiction over the defendant when the defendant either:
- Lives in that state; or
- Is physically present in that state when they are served with notice that a lawsuit has been filed against them
For example, assume you live in Missouri and have been injured in Kansas by a person who lives permanently in Kansas. In that situation, Kansas has automatic personal jurisdiction over the defendant because the defendant lives in Kansas and is subject to the laws of Kansas.
Now assume that you have been injured in Kansas by a person who lives in Oklahoma. In that case, you can file your claim in Oklahoma, which has automatic personal jurisdiction over the defendant because the defendant lives in Oklahoma.
However, you may not want to file your lawsuit in either Kansas or Oklahoma if you don’t live in either state. If you live in Missouri and would rather file your lawsuit in Missouri, you may be able to file here if the defendant is voluntarily physically present in Missouri when they are served with the lawsuit. In that case, Missouri has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. This can be tricky, however, because you may not know if or when the defendant will be in Missouri.
When Does a Court Have Personal Jurisdiction over a Defendant Due to Voluntary Contact?
Most states have what is called a “long-arm statute.” These statutes extend the state’s personal jurisdiction to people from other states who have some voluntary contact with the state. Long-arm statutes vary from state to state, so it is important to check the long-arm statute in the state where you want to file your lawsuit to see if it provides jurisdiction in your case.
Assume that you have been injured in Kansas by a person from Kansas but you want to file your lawsuit in Missouri, where you live. Missouri’s long-arm statute gives Missouri courts personal jurisdiction over anyone who has had contact with the state, as long as it is fair to bring that defendant to court in a state that is not the state in which they live.
Because long-arm statutes differ from state to state, some statutes are broader than others. Generally, however, most state long-arm statutes include certain situations that are viewed as a sufficient contact with the state to satisfy personal jurisdiction. Some of these may include situations in which the defendant:
- Conducted any business transactions in the state
- Committed a tortious or negligent act in the state
- Owned or used any real property in the state
- Contracted for insurance on any person or property within the state
- Maintained a marital home within the state
- Conceived a child in the state
If the defendant never set foot in Missouri and has not had any contact with the state, bringing a lawsuit against the defendant in Missouri would be difficult because Missouri wouldn’t have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. However, if the defendant routinely visited Missouri, had some relationship with a business entity in Missouri, or had some contact with the state similar to those situations described above, then this may be enough to give Missouri personal jurisdiction over that defendant.
What is Important to Consider when Deciding in which State to File a Lawsuit?
Sometimes you may be able to establish personal jurisdiction over the defendant in more than one state. In this scenario, a state is going to have personal jurisdiction over the defendant because they either live in that state or injured you in that state. However, if you live in Missouri and are injured by a person from Arkansas, it is possible that the defendant also may have enough contacts with Missouri so that Missouri and Arkansas both have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Now you have a choice to make—should you file in Missouri or Arkansas?
When choosing between two different states that have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, there are several factors to consider:
- Convenience. Convenience is a key factor in deciding where to file your law suit. If you live in Missouri, you may prefer to file your lawsuit close to home. Filing in your home state may be more convenient because:
- You may not want to travel to another state to litigate your claim
- You may not want to hire a lawyer in another state
- The law in your home state may be more favorable to you in your case
- You may not satisfy the time limit for filing your claim in the other state (this time limit is determined by a law that varies in every state, called a “statute of limitations”)
- You may be able to recover more damages in your home state
- Fairness.Courts also consider fairness when deciding which court should have jurisdiction. For example, if you file your lawsuit in Missouri but the defendant lives in Texas, and your injury occurred in Texas, which is where most of the witnesses who will testify will be, then the defendant may petition the Missouri court to move the lawsuit from Missouri to Texas. The court has the discretion to grant that request if it decides that it would be fairer for all the parties for the case to be heard in Texas.
It is important to consider whether it may be fairer or more convenient for you to file your claim in another state and at least be aware that, even though you may file your lawsuit in your home state, the court may move your case to another jurisdiction if it is appropriate.
The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, will help you determine where it will be most convenient and fairest to file your claim.
When Does a Court Have Subject Matter Jurisdiction?
Once you have determined in which state you are going to file your lawsuit, you then must decide whether to file your lawsuit in state or federal court. This is a question of subject matter jurisdiction, which is the court’s right to decide the type of claim you have filed.
A state court has the right to decide almost any type of claim because state courts are courts of general jurisdiction. So, if you want to file a personal injury claim, a state court is going to have subject matter jurisdiction automatically.
Federal courts are different. Federal courts have jurisdiction over limited types of claims. One way to get subject matter jurisdiction in federal court is to have diversity jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction exists when:
- The parties in a case are all from different states, and
- You are claiming damages higher than $75,000.
So, if you live in Missouri, are injured by a person who does not live in Missouri, and are asking for more than $75,000 in damages, you have diversity jurisdiction. Therefore, a federal court will have subject matter jurisdiction over your claim.
As the plaintiff, having diversity jurisdiction allows you to choose whether to file in federal or state court. If you choose to file in federal court, you must choose a federal court situated in a state that would have personal jurisdiction if you were filing in state court. Be aware that even though you get to choose between state and federal court when filing your lawsuit, the defendant may petition the court to move the lawsuit.