A court can only rule on cases over which it has jurisdiction. In the United States, most civil litigation—that is, lawsuits to recover damages—comes under the jurisdiction of state courts.
Only a small minority of personal injury cases meet the requirements for federal subject matter jurisdiction. And it’s not always in the parties’ best interests to litigate a case in federal court.
In federal courts, juries are smaller and usually do not reside within the victim’s community, which can make them less willing to grant a generous damages award. Further, federal cases require more written submissions and more hearings than state trials, which increases the cost and length of litigation.
There are two ways in which a case can come under federal jurisdiction.
The most obvious way for a case to end up in federal court is if the case involves a question of federal law. Very few auto accident cases qualify for federal question jurisdiction because liability usually hinges on a demonstration of negligence, which is governed by state law and case precedent.
The few auto accident cases that are litigated in federal court usually involve diversity of citizenship between the parties. For example, if you get into an accident with someone who lives in another state, the subsequent lawsuit would satisfy the diversity of citizenship requirements.
In addition to the diversity of citizenship, a federal diversity jurisdiction case must involve more than $75,000 in damages. In these cases, the question of whether the cases raise a federal question of law is irrelevant.
For purposes of establishing jurisdiction, courts consider people to be residents of the states in which they have habitual residence. A person can be a resident of only one state at a time. Corporations, however, may be citizens of two states: the state where they are incorporated and the state in which they maintain their principal place of business.
Even if a situation of diversity exists between the parties, and the claim involves more than $75,000, a state court can still have jurisdiction over the case. This is because state courts can generally hear any case arising out of events occurring within its borders or involving at least one of its citizens—unless of course, it involves a question of federal law.
Thus, a plaintiff often has the choice of taking the case to either a federal or state court at the outset of litigation. A defendant can also seek to remove a case to federal court after receiving the plaintiff’s complaint. The question of whether it’s beneficial to litigate at the federal or state level will of course depend on the specific facts of your case.
Do you want to know more about when it’s in your interest to take a case to federal court? Give a lawyer from Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. a call at for a free consultation of your case.