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Jurisdiction: Accidents That Involve Multiple States

Diversity Jurisdiction, Multi-State Accidents: “Maybe we should take a plane instead of driving…”

Diversity jurisdiction in personal injury cases – and what you need to know

Accidents in one state are hard enough – can you imagine adding another?

Many people can, because if you have an accident that involves a driver from another state or an employee whose company has foreign headquarters, you are looking at a case with multistate involvement.

This is called diversity jurisdiction and falls under the control of federal courts – these are specifically for cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 in value and no plaintiff shares a home state with any defendant. These cases are incredibly time-consuming, costly and lengthy.

What’s different in a multistate personal injury case?

When you have a normal accident – if there is such a thing – there is a plaintiff and defendant in a single jurisdiction.

Using a car accident as an example, the plaintiff is harmed by the defendant in some way and the plaintiff sues for damages. This is a fairly streamlined process because the plaintiff will find an attorney to help him and there is only one jurisdiction to deal with.

Enjuris tip: Diversity jurisdiction: The federal court has the power to hear any case in which the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 in value and no plaintiff shares a home state with any defendant.

A multistate case is more complicated. Let’s say you are from New Jersey and are driving through Maryland to visit your grandmother when you are rear-ended by a delivery truck.

The driver is upset and apologetic, because he’d only looked away from the road for a split second when the traffic had congested. The police come to take an accident report, and EMS arrives to take you away by stretcher.

Basically, you have made minimum contact with the state by crashing your car into it, so you can file your case there.

Your car is totaled, and you later have to deal with both your health and auto insurance companies reimbursing you for claims starting in a different state.

One would think that you could file wherever you lived, but that’s not quite true. States have sovereign power, and one of those powers is to claim jurisdiction over controversies that happen on its roads.

These are called “motorist statutes,” and each state has one. Basically, you have made minimum contact with the state by crashing your car into it, so you can file your case there.

So where do we file the case?

In this example, you are driving in a different state and hit by a driver who is in the course of his employment.

That means not only will you have to employ an attorney in Maryland, where the accident occurred, but you will also need to find an attorney in New Jersey, where you’re from.

The Maryland attorney is called “local counsel.” You need someone licensed in the state, because attorneys are state-specific and have to take separate bar exams to be qualified.

As such, your New Jersey attorney has only a vague idea how to handle a Maryland car accident case and needs all the help he can get.

As such, your New Jersey attorney has only a vague idea how to handle a Maryland car accident case and needs all the help he can get.

The case needs to be filed where the accident occurred.

So, in this case, it’s filed in Maryland federal court because of the diversity jurisdictional requirement. This obviously puts a great amount of stress on everyone involved in the case, seeing as literally nobody involved is actually from Maryland.

Meanwhile, the delivery driver’s corporate headquarters are located in Florida.

This means you have to add that factor as well and list them as a defendant. When an employee is injured on the job, the employer is generally responsible. This legal doctrine is called respondeat superior. If the employee were goofing around on the clock or taking a quick detour for personal matters, the employer’s responsibility might be debatable. For argument’s sake, we’ll say the driver was on track with his deliveries and not taking any detours for coffee. (See our Guide to Workers’ Compensation.)

In theory, you could choose to sue the defendant in Florida, where the company’s headquarters are. But that would mean you would physically have to travel to Florida for hearings and meetings, and you would also need to retain local counsel there as well.

You will also want to consider which state has the more beneficial statute of limitations and damage caps on insurance claims. You’ll want to take into account the effort of traveling, filing, the cost involved and how much time you are willing to invest.

But what about my settlement in a multi-jurisdiction case?

Multistate cases mean that costs pile up far more quickly than they would with a regular case. So far you already have two attorneys who need to split costs.

Luckily your New Jersey attorney won’t take much – probably a nominal amount for being a placeholder – but it still cuts into your settlement.

If it goes to a jury, however, you will probably be staying in a hotel in Maryland for a while, and what will that do to your job situation in New Jersey?

You’ll have to travel to and from Maryland for attorneys’ meetings, depositions, independent medical exams and hopefully settlement meetings like arbitration. That comes out of your pocket, unfortunately.

If it goes to a jury, however, you will probably be staying in a hotel in Maryland for a while, and what will that do to your job situation in New Jersey?

And those depositions? Your attorney will have to hire someone down in Florida to depose people in the corporate headquarters. They’ll have to depose the driver, wherever he lives – and if he’s a truck driver, that could literally be anywhere. And, depending on the severity of your injuries are, the corporate headquarters might be surveilling you to see how severe your injuries actually are.

Investigators might be watching you walking to your car, going into work, carrying your groceries, laughing with your friends and looking positively normal.

Defendants like that take multistate cases far more seriously. Crossing state lines means the stakes have gone up, and more people have gotten involved.

What should I do differently?

On your end? Nothing, though do be aware that you might be filmed by a surveillance team if the case is worth a large amount.

As a personal injury plaintiff, the only thing you need to focus on is healing from the accident and getting better on physical, mental and emotional levels.

Your local attorney has handled multistate cases before, and if he hasn’t, find someone who has. The only thing different about a multistate case is that every few months, you will gear up for a big trip to another state for a few very long meetings and possibly a doctor’s appointment. This will exhaust you on a level you didn’t realize was possible, but afterward you will be one step closer to a settlement.

Just listen to your attorney and heed his advice.

Need to find a qualified attorney who knows how to handle a multi-jurisdictional case? Check out the Enjuris law firm directory!

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