The world is becoming an ever-smaller place. With the Internet creating a "place" that exists apart from traditional notions of states, countries, or even continents, borders sometimes seem like an old-fashioned concept. Nonetheless, borders do matter when it comes to the law (as anyone who has watched offenders speed across the border in a movie will recall). In both the civil and criminal systems, jurisdiction is a key principle that ensures borders are respected. Issues of civil jurisdiction are particularly important to our Northwest Florida injury law firm given how close we are to two other states and the fact that tourism regularly brings out-of-state visitors to our area.
On the criminal side, being located near the state border makes cooperation critical; a Florida patrolman may not be able to follow a drunk driver across the border and vice versa, but if peers can communicate and cooperate, everyone benefits. This week, WMBB wrote about a "Hands Across the Border" initiative through which Florida, Alabama, and Georgia law enforcement groups are partnering to save lives during the upcoming holiday weekend. Specifically, they are working together to combat drunk drivers and marking the 23rd year of these joint efforts.
Police are being extra-vigilant since, as Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts notes, it is "a very deadly time of year" and the roads are busy with people flocking to our local beaches. Agencies are paying extra attention to the US 231 corridor and Highway 90, including the use of undercover officers and sobriety checkpoints. The various agencies in all three states are working to ensure everyone returns home safe and encouraging drivers to be alert, to be smart, and to practice defensive driving techniques.
Borders are also an issue on the civil side of the court system. In order for a court to be able to hear a case, the case must be within the judicial "borders" or, in more formal terms, the court must have jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties. On the subject matter side, personal injury cases typically fall under the jurisdiction of the state courts where the injury occurred or the parties are located. In Florida, county courts hear civil disputes that involve under $15,000 and circuit courts hear civil cases involving higher amounts. There are situations in which an injury case might be heard in a federal court, but the subject matter requirements are a bit more complex.
Personal jurisdiction is about the court's authority to decide a case involving the parties, particularly the defendant. If the civil law didn't place limits on personal jurisdiction, you could find yourself being sued in a far-flung state even if you'd never been to the state, never done business there, and had no involvement whatsoever with the state.
Generally speaking (and greatly simplifying a complex inquiry), a party must either reside within the court's geographic area or have significant contacts with the area in order to give a court jurisdiction over the party. Florida's long-arm statute provides an overview of acts that confer jurisdiction over a non-resident and also allow a court to call that non-resident before the tribunal.
Suppose our client is a Florida resident who was injured by a Georgia resident who was driving drunk on a Panama City roadway and there is more than $15,000 at stake (note: we also work with clients from other states who were injured while visiting our region, see the link below for more details). Both forms of jurisdiction are met and a local circuit court can hear the case. The jurisdictional analysis can get much more complex, especially when multiple parties are involved. Importantly, even in cases where subject matter and personal jurisdiction are relatively straightforward, an initial Complaint must detail both or it can be tossed out of court.
Even in today's world, place and details matters. Jurisdiction is an important issue for both the criminal and civil systems. The police focus on jurisdiction when enforcing the law and our firm focuses on jurisdiction when representing the wrongfully injured. As a Panama City plaintiffs' law firm, one of our jobs is ensuring that our client's case is brought in the right court. While civil jurisdiction may not inspire a movie chase scene, it is still important to keeping the legal system in working order.
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