How Did My Negligence Suit End Up In Federal Court?
Most people are aware that there are state courts and federal courts. State courts and federal courts have different rules on the types of cases that can be heard in their respective court systems. If a lawsuit is about a person or entity acting negligently, recklessly, or not in the way a reasonable person or entity would have acted in a similar situation, then that’s called a negligence suit and those kinds of cases are primarily matters for state courts to handle. However, sometimes those kinds of cases can end up in federal court. Why? Because of something called “diversity jurisdiction.” Let us explain . . . if a person or entity you are suing is a citizen of a different state than you or is a company that is incorporated in a different state from you, plus the amount of disputed damages is greater than $75,000, then your negligence case filed in a state court can be “removed” to and heard in federal court.
For example, consider a person hurt while shopping at a big national chain store. If the victim is a citizen of Indiana and the specific store location is in Indiana the victim can sue within the Indiana court system. However, if the national chain store was incorporated in a state other than Indiana, and the injuries suffered exceed $75,000, the negligence case also qualifies to be brought in federal court. And, even if the victim files in state court, a defendant has a short window of opportunity to move such a case to the federal court system. Sound confusing? It is, which is why somebody invented attorneys in the first place.
Some cases though can only be handled by a federal court. For example, if you sue the U.S. government or a federal agency you usually have no option but to sue in federal court. For example, we recently had a client who was in an automobile collision and the car that struck our client was owned by a federal agency and driven by a federal employee. Such a case has to be filed in federal court. Is this bad? Not necessarily, but sometime a “federal case” can be more costly to pursue. Oh, and also all the federal court employees are paid by the same federal government you are suing. Also, the federal government restricts the type and amount of damages you can recover, and sets up many procedural hoops for the injured person to jump through. Such hoops are another reason that attorneys were invented.
So why do we share this info? Just to give you some background as to why some cases end up in federal court and others do not. You can be in a car crash or truck accident in Indiana, and your case can end up being heard in a federal court. You can fall on ice or on a poorly maintained floor at a business that is physically located in say Munster, or Hammond, or Gary, and if the owner of the business is incorporated in another state, you can end up having your case moved to the federal court. So we share these points to let you know a little bit about the behind the scenes aspects of what we do. As always, if you need legal advice on this or other subjects in our areas of concentration, please call us at (219) 736-9700.