Many individuals are injured by negligent or reckless conduct. To recover damages from those responsible, injured parties may wish to file a civil lawsuit. However, these personal injury claims must be presented to the proper court. Below, you’ll find an explanation of the different factors that may affect which court handles your case.
Federal & State Court
Civil suits may be filed in federal or state court. However, the courts differ in the types of cases they can hear. State courts generally have the authority to hear a wide range of cases. Federal courts, on the other hand, have strict limitations on the kind of lawsuits they are allowed to hear. Lawsuits that are appropriate in federal court include:
- Lawsuits based on federal law or the U.S. Constitution
- Lawsuits between citizens of different states with over $75,000 in damages
- Lawsuits based on bankruptcy, patent, and copyright law
Sometimes, state and federal courts may both have the authority to hear a legal claim. In those cases, the injured parties can choose to file their case in either state or federal court. Plaintiffs should consult with their attorney in determining which court is best suited for their claim. Important factors to consider are favorable federal or state laws and judicial efficiency of the court – a state court may be able to hear your case sooner than a federal court, or vice versa.
Where to File
Once injured plaintiffs have determined in which court – federal or state – to proceed, they then must decide where to file the lawsuit. Injured parties can file their lawsuit in the court district where their injury occurred or generally wherever defendants’ have a business or personal presence. For example, if hip replacement patients received their defective hips in Austin, TX and the hip manufacturer is in El Paso, TX, the patients can properly file a lawsuit in either Austin or El Paso.
The court system can be overwhelmed with similar cases involving the same misconduct by the same defendant. As a result, the federal court system uses multidistrict litigation (MDL) to consolidate multiple cases with common issues and transfer them to a single court. This consolidation of cases is done for efficiency, convenience, and consistency regarding pre-trial proceedings such as the discovery phase.
For example, to prove a hip manufacturer knew its product was designed improperly, injured patients may ask the court for the defendant’s internal research documents. Without MDL, hundreds, or even thousands, of individual plaintiffs would be asking for the same documents, requiring judges to rule on the same issue countless times. In a MDL matter, the presiding judge only has to determine whether the injured parties should receive the requested documents once. While MDL is efficient and can help claimants pool their resources, it can also require them to travel long distances to visit the federal court hearing the suits.