Anatomy of a Personal Injury Case: Federal Court? State Court?

Following an injury, be it car accident, dog bite, or other type, a victim should be fairly compensated for any resulting pain and suffering. Fairly compensating victims for the negligent acts of others is the heart and soul of personal injury law. But, where does an injured victim go for justice – federal court, state court? Whether a particular personal injury case should be brought in state court or federal court can change depending on a variety of circumstances.

When State Court is the Choice

Before a court can hear a case, the court must have jurisdiction (or authority to make judgments) over what happened. Florida’s elected state legislators pass laws establishing and granting courts jurisdiction. Florida’s legislature has created county and circuit courts to hear accident and injury cases. Florida county courts have jurisdiction over personal injury cases involving claims for $15,000 or less. Florida circuit courts, on the other hand, have jurisdiction over personal injury cases involving claims for more than $15,000.

By and large, most personal injury cases are heard in either the county or circuit court where the injury took place. There are several reasons why most personal injury cases are brought in the state court where the injury takes place. One of those reasons is that accident and injury law is traditionally based in state law. As a result, state courts are the primary choice for accident and injury cases.

When Federal Court is the Choice

Similar to how the Florida legislature creates Florida state courts, the U.S. Congress creates federal courts and determines their jurisdiction. Without proper authorization of U.S. law, a federal court cannot hear a case. The federal court system is separated into administrative law courts, district courts, appeals courts, and finally, the Supreme Court. The beginning point for nearly all personal injury cases heard in federal court is U.S. district court. Florida has three U.S. districts: the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Florida.

Federal jurisdiction is different from state jurisdiction in several ways. To start, federal courts deal primarily with questions of federal law. As we have already discussed, accident and injury claims are traditionally based in state law, so federal court will not have jurisdiction over what happened to cause an accident or injury. But, there are special circumstances when a federal court will have jurisdiction. For example, when the accident or injury involves the citizen of a different state (say Alabama or Georgia), and the case involves a claim for more than $75,000, then the case can be brought in federal court. Due to its close proximity to bordering states, Panama City, Florida, has contact with many drivers, workers, and businesses from different states. When those out-of-state citizens cause injuries to Florida citizens, federal court may be the place to seek justice.

Making the Determination

Determining whether a case should be brought in federal or state court is just one of hundreds of considerations and choices that must be made with each accident and injury case. Making that determination is not easy. The factors and reasons for choosing one forum over another requires the professionalism and experience that comes from years of practicing accident and injury law in Florida. The Pittman Firm has the professionalism and experience that your case needs to succeed.

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