A Personal Injury and Accident Attorney Explains How a Court Can Assume
Jurisdiction in Personal Injury Lawsuits
It is common knowledge that many of the products we use every day are manufactured
at a facility distant to where the product was purchased and used. In
many cases this location is in another state or even in another country
such as China. In today’s post, an accident lawyer will discuss
how lawsuits involving different jurisdictions can influence which type
of court (a state or a federal court) will ultimately hear a lawsuit.
Depending on the circumstances that lead to a lawsuit, and the prevailing
civil law, either party may request that a different court hear that lawsuit
rather than the court where the lawsuit was originally filed. This requires
that a party file a petition for removal to another jurisdiction. In many
cases this request will involve asking a federal court to assume jurisdiction
over the lawsuit. However, a change of venue petition may ask that a case
be heard by a different court within a state, particularly in “high
profile” cases where media reports may have prejudiced the potential
Federal courts have been, and still are, reluctant to involve themselves
in local matters. They will, however, assume jurisdiction in certain well-established
circumstances such as
original federal jurisdiction or
diversity of citizenship.
- Original federal jurisdiction
Historically, federal courts have acted primarily as courts of appeal.
This is because the Constitution, and other laws that have been enacted
by Congress, expressly
limit the authority of a federal to act as a court of original jurisdiction
(the court that first hears a case). Consequently, only in certain well-defined
circumstances will a federal court exercise jurisdiction a civil matter
such as a lawsuit. These exceptional circumstances include matters related to
treaties that have been ratified by Congress, matters arising from
matters of constitutional law, dealings of
diplomacy involving a foreign government, matters arising in
maritime law, or if the dispute involves matters related to
In practice, a federal court will usually assume jurisdiction in
class action or
mass tort lawsuits where there are plaintiffs in many states or if the case alleges
violations of federal law or regulations, even if no criminal act is at issue.
Another reason that either party may ask that a case be removed to federal
jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship. Diversity of citizenship simply
means that one party has their residence or their primary place of business
in a location that is outside the jurisdiction of the court where the
lawsuit was filed.
The issue of federal jurisdiction in diversity of citizenship cases arose
in the latter half of the 19th century when railroads became the dominant
form of transportation. At first, a railroad facing a lawsuit could demand
that the lawsuit be tried in the state court closest to the railroad’s
headquarters. This meant that a plaintiff in one state would have to travel
to another state, hire a local personal injury or railroad accident lawyer,
and remain available until the case was tried. This made it impracticable
for most plaintiffs to pursue a lawsuit against a railroad.
Eventually, the courts held that a business could be sued in any location
where it routinely conducted business operations. However, since such
cases involved interstate commerce, the lawsuit would have to be heard
in a federal court having jurisdiction over the area where the lawsuit
was filed. Thus, diversity of citizenship of the parties involved can
result in a case being filed in a federal court.
Removing a Personal Injury Lawsuit to a Federal Court
To have a lawsuit removed from a state court to a federal court, the party
requesting removal must first file a petition with the federal court stating
why it feels the lawsuit should be heard at the federal level. The other
party will, of course, be given the opportunity to present arguments stating
why the case should remain under local jurisdiction. After hearing the
positions of both parties, the court will either 1) deny the petition
or 2) issue an order of removal that transfers the case to the federal court.
In practice, the selection of the court to hear a lawsuit is quite often
a matter of tactics than legal doctrine. As an example, it is known that
a local jury will be reluctant to make a substantial award against a company
that makes a strong contribution to the local economy. Given the same
facts, a federal jury will likely award a greater percentage of the original
damages sought in the lawsuit. There is, however, a “double-edged
sword” to be considered with federal juries: although federal juries
can be more “generous” than state juries, federal juries tend
to be more sympathetic to the defendants in a civil lawsuit rather than
to the plaintiff.
In summary, although many lawsuits are decided in state courts there are
several situations that can lead to the case being “removed”
from a state court to a federal court. In these situations, an accident
lawyer will have the training and experience to either fight an attempt
to move the case to the federal level or to accept such a move as being
in the best interests of his client.