Jurisdiction in Personal Injury Lawsuits

Generally, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed in the state and county where the injury occurred and typically it would be filed in state court.  However, under certain circumstances the case may be filed in federal court or in state court in another state.  

For a court to be able to hear a case, it must have personal and subject matter jurisdiction.  Subject matter jurisdiction means that the court must have authority to hear a case of a certain kind.  For example, municipal or magistrate courts do not have jurisdiction over a medical malpractice case.  

Personal injury lawsuits are often heard in state court.  Federal jurisdiction in a personal injury lawsuit can arise when an accident or injury involves parties that reside in different states and the amount in controversy is over $75,000, or when the injury involved a violation of a federal law.  The first element occurs most often when an out of state company or corporation is the named defendant.

Personal jurisdiction refers to whether the court has authority over the defendant.  A state court has jurisdiction over a defendant if the defendant resides or does business in the state.  For a New Mexico state court to have jurisdiction over a non-resident of the state, the defendant must have engaged in some negligent act, such as causing an automobile accident, while in New Mexico or have some other specified “minimum contacts” with the state.  An individual or business defendant is said to satisfy the minimum contacts requirement if the individual or business has certain significant ties to the state. 

For example, a business headquartered in another state that keeps a branch office or other facility in the state where the suit is filed (the forum state) will be considered to have minimum contacts with that state.  In some cases, an individual or business can be found to have minimum contacts with the forum state when he or she advertises or solicits business via telephone and mail in the forum state.

Several jurisdictional issues may arise in a personal injury lawsuit.  In most cases, if a suit can be filed in federal court, it can also be filed in state court.  In other cases, the plaintiff may be able to file in state court in more than one state.  A plaintiff should consider several factors when deciding where to file.  The court where a case is filed can have significant consequences for the plaintiff. 

An experienced injury attorney will be able to explain to a injured plaintiff all of the possible courts where a claim may be filed.  Likewise, the attorney will be able to advise the client on where best to file for the interests of the client.  

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