When a person is injured and files a lawsuit against the person at fault seeking damages, the lawsuit is called a personal injury lawsuit.
In Indiana, there are 3 main court systems where a person might file a personal injury lawsuit:
Source: Indiana Judicial Branch
Most personal injury cases will be filed in the circuit or superior court located in the town where the accident occurred or the defendant lives. But let’s take a look at all of the possibilities.
Indiana’s small claims courts only handle matters in which the damages claimed don’t exceed $6,000 (except in Marion County where the damages limit is $8,000).
Small claims courts are relatively informal. The Indiana Rules of Evidence don’t apply, nor do the Indiana Rules of Procedure. You’ll simply fill out a form explaining your issue and both sides will have an opportunity to argue their case in front of a judge.
Marion County is the only county in Indiana with separate small claims courts (1 in each of its 9 townships). In all other counties, the circuit court hears small claims or a division of the superior court hears small claims.
Trial courts are courts of “general jurisdiction,” which means they have the power to hear any civil (or criminal) case, including:
In Indiana, there are 2 different kinds of trial courts:
Though the courts have different names, this is primarily due to legislative inconsistencies. In reality, there is no significant difference between circuit courts and superior courts.
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits in Indiana are filed in a circuit or superior court.
The Indiana Supreme Court is the state’s highest court. In all likelihood, your personal injury case will not be heard by the Supreme Court. Indiana’s Supreme Court only hears 2 types of cases:
In Indiana, there are 2 federal courts that you need to know about:
Federal courts are courts of “limited jurisdiction” because they can ONLY hear the following types of cases:
Chances are your personal injury lawsuit doesn’t involve the U.S. Constitution or a federal law (though it’s certainly possible). It’s more likely that your case has “complete diversity.”
Complete diversity exists when:
Just because your case can be filed in federal court, doesn’t mean it must. You can choose instead to file in state court, though the opposing party might try to “remove” your case to federal court.
Once you’ve figured out the appropriate court system, you’ll need to decide the proper venue. The term “venue” refers to the geographic location of the court.
In other words, you may decide you need to file your case in circuit court, but the circuit court of which county?
In most personal injury lawsuits, you can file your lawsuit:
Let’s say you’re involved in a car accident in Noble County with a driver who ran a red light. You live in Marion County and the defendant lives in Elkhart County. You’re injured in the accident and are claiming damages in the amount of $20,000.
In the above scenario, you could either file your lawsuit in the Elkhart County Circuit Court (where the defendant lives) or the Noble County Circuit Court (where the accident occurred). You can’t file your lawsuit in federal court because you don’t have complete diversity and no federal laws were violated, nor can you file your lawsuit in small claims court because the amount of damages exceeds $6,000.
Unfortunately, a plaintiff can’t file a lawsuit where they live in most cases, unless the accident occurred there or the defendant also lives there. This is because the Indiana venue rules (and the venue rules of all states) are concerned with making sure the defendant doesn't get dragged across the country by the plaintiff.
Remember, the deadline for filing most personal injury lawsuits in Indiana is 2 years. If you don’t file and serve the defendant within 2 years of the accident, you won’t recover any damages.
To make sure you file timely and in the right court, consider contacting an Indiana personal injury attorney using the free Enjuris legal directory.