Where do you file your lawsuit if you in an auto collision while traveling in a different state?
The thing about cars is that they’re designed to move.
That means if you get into a car accident, it might not be in the same state where you live. It might not even be on the same side of the country.
So what happens if you’re injured in a car accident in one state, but reside in another? Where do you file your personal injury lawsuit?
What’s an out-of-state car accident?
An out-of-state car accident is exactly what it sounds like. If you’re in a car accident in Texas, for instance, but you live in Montana, then you’ve been in an out-of-state car accident. Out-of-state car accidents raise 2 important questions:
- Where do you file a personal injury lawsuit?
- Where do you file an insurance claim?
Where do you file a personal injury lawsuit after an out-of-state car accident?
In general, a person injured in a car accident can file a lawsuit in the state where:
- The defendant resides, or
- The car accident occurred.
Let’s look at an example:
Kelly lives in Connecticut. One winter, she decides to drive to Florida for vacation. While driving through South Carolina, she’s struck by Adam, who’s driving while intoxicated. Adam is visiting family in South Carolina, but he lives in Tennessee. Kelly is injured in the car accident and decides to sue Adam.
Kelly can sue Adam in:
- Tennessee (the state where he resides), or
- South Carolina (the state where the accident occurred).
Given that Kelly lives in Connecticut, both states are inconvenient. Nevertheless, the law doesn’t allow Kelly to file suit in Connecticut unless Adam consents to be sued there. Unfortunately, Kelly’s stuck with either Tennessee or South Carolina.
What if a business is involved?
If you’re injured by a truck driver or some other business employee, you can sue the business in the state where the accident occurred or in the state where the business resides.
But where does a business “reside”?
Businesses are considered to reside in the state where they were incorporated or where they have their principal place of business.
What’s more, you may be able to sue a business in any state where the business has sufficient “minimum contacts.” That is, if a business does a significant amount of business in a state, you can generally sue the business in that state.
Which state’s laws apply?
Determining where you can sue a defendant is only half the battle. It’s important to know which state’s laws apply to your lawsuit. Think this doesn’t matter?
Consider the following hypothetical:
Bill is involved in a car accident with Ray in Alabama. Ray is from New York. The accident was partially Bill’s fault (he was texting and driving) and partially Ray’s fault (he ran a stop sign). Bill decides to sue Ray in New York.
Alabama has a pure contributory negligence statute, meaning plaintiffs aren’t able to recover any damages if they’re even 1% at fault for the accident. On the other hand, New York has a pure comparative fault statute, meaning a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. This means that if Alabama’s laws apply to Bill’s lawsuit, Bill won’t be able to recover any damages. If New York’s laws apply, however, Bill will be able to recover some damages (minus his percentage of fault).
Unfortunately for Bill, there is a presumption that the laws of the state where the accident occurred (Alabama) will apply. Though this presumption can be overcome, it’s very difficult to do so in car accident cases.
What if there are multiple defendants?
Believe it or not, things actually get a little easier for plaintiffs if there are multiple defendants. In these cases, the plaintiff can sue all the defendants:
- In the state where the accident occurred, or
- In any state where at least 1 defendant resides.
Let’s say that Jim is involved in a car accident in North Carolina with Tracy and Jennifer. Tracy is from Texas and Jennifer is from Arizona. If Jim decides to sue Tracy and Jennifer, he can do so in:
- North Carolina (where the accident occurred),
- Texas (where Tracy resides), or
- Arizona (where Jennifer resides).
What about auto insurance claims?
When it comes to auto insurance, the most important thing you need to know is that your car insurance will cover you no matter where you are in the United States. For example, if you bought your car in your home state of California but get into an accident in Georgia, your policy will still cover you.
Fortunately, because auto insurance policies extend beyond state lines, filing an insurance claim for an out-of-state accident is essentially the same process as filing a claim for an in-state accident.
Even if you know the states where you can file a lawsuit, it’s important to consult with an attorney to make sure you’re making the right strategic decision.
If you’ve been in an out-of-state car accident, use our free online directory to locate an experienced attorney.