Where to make a claim is the first question you need to ask before filing a lawsuit
If you’ve been injured by someone’s negligence, you might feel angry and wish to have justice served. And it can be. But that doesn’t mean you can march up the courthouse steps and file a lawsuit just because you want to and you’re in the right. There’s a process.
Different types of cases are handled in a variety of ways within the court system in North Carolina. Unlike other states, there’s no local court system in North Carolina. All civil cases are handled within the unified statewide system.
The North Carolina Judicial Branch of government is the courts. The courts make decisions about how to interpret the laws and what the consequences are for those who break them or breached a duty to someone else.
North Carolina Trial Court Division
All cases in North Carolina are initiated within the trial division.
|North Carolina civil claims courts|
|Small claims court||District court||Superior court|
|Up to $10,000||$10,000 - $25,000||More than $25,000|
District Court Division
There are 41 districts across the state and district courts are available in each county. These courts, which are overseen by chief district court judges, handle matters related to:
- Child custody and support
- Criminal misdemeanors and infractions
- Juvenile delinquency, juvenile undisciplined cases, abuse, neglect, and dependency cases for minors
- Cases with damages of less than $25,000
District courts also have magistrates, which are independent judicial officers who are supervised by the chief district court judge. A magistrate can handle these civil cases:
- Small claims court lawsuits of $10,000 or less
- Landlord eviction cases
- Personal property recovery and motor vehicle mechanics’ liens
Locate your North Carolina district court here.
Superior Court Division
The Superior Court in North Carolina is for felony criminal cases, civil claims of more than $25,000, and district court appeals.
A civil claim in the Superior Court is usually decided by a judge unless a party to the case requests a jury.
North Carolina Superior Court also includes its Business Court, which hears cases with complex corporate and commercial law cases.
North Carolina also has its own Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals acts as a kind of stepping stone between the District Courts and the Supreme Court.
Both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals only consider questions of law. They can overturn a trial court’s verdict only if there was an error in legal proceedings or if the court interpreted the law incorrectly. They do not review questions of fact.
In other words, you might not agree with a judge or jury’s verdict in your personal injury case. And you’ve probably seen an angry litigant on TV yell, “I’ll take this all the way to the Supreme Court!” but that’s not how it actually works. The court system isn’t like going to a different doctor to get a second opinion — most of the time, the verdict stands.
Most cases that move up from the Superior or District courts are heard by the Court of Appeals. Each case is decided by a 3-judge panel. If 1 judge dissents, the parties have the right to escalate the case to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in North Carolina. There is one Chief Justice and there are six associate justices.
North Carolina alternative dispute resolution
There are several reasons why parties might attempt to settle a claim out of court. It could be less expensive, less publicity, and less stressful — just to name a few.
Every case filed in North Carolina state court is required to attempt alternative dispute resolution, which is mediation or arbitration. If the parties aren’t able to resolve the dispute out of court, only then can they proceed to trial.
Mediation is when an impartial third-party mediator acts as a referee to the dispute and works with both parties to reach a resolution. While the parties ultimately come to their own solution, the mediator helps with communication and negotiation along the way. The process is completely voluntary and if an agreement isn’t reached, the parties may then proceed to trial if they wish.
A court can order arbitration. This is more similar to going to court because the arbitrator would make a decision after hearing arguments and reviewing evidence. Unlike mediation, which is intended to help parties to work out conflict and come to an agreement that both sides are comfortable with, arbitration is binding. The arbitrator makes a decision in place of a judge. However, if one party isn’t satisfied with the arbitrator’s decision, they have a right to proceed to a lawsuit in district or superior court.
Should you represent yourself in the North Carolina court system?
If you represent yourself in a lawsuit, you’re considered a “pro se” litigant. You can file a lawsuit in the court clerk’s office. The clerk will answer general procedural questions but isn’t permitted to give legal advice or complete forms for you.
But in most situations, you’ll want to hire a personal injury lawyer. Here’s why:
Even if you think the facts of your case are straightforward, the legal process can be complicated. If you’re thinking of filing a lawsuit, you have something at stake — whether a large or small sum of money, you believe you’re entitled to that recovery and you don’t want to risk losing it because you made a simple mistake in the legal process.
If you’re considering a lawsuit, it’s best to consult with a qualified North Carolina attorney. An experienced lawyer will know the court system inside and out, be familiar with judges within your district, and have working relationships with some of the opposing counsel. All of that matters in a civil case. Occasionally, a lawyer will take a different approach to a case if they have experience with a specific judge, especially in a smaller county.
If you need to find a lawyer, you can consult the free Enjuris lawyer directory to find a North Carolina attorney near you who can best advise on your case.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.