Where Should You File Your Personal Injury Lawsuit?
While up to 96 percent of personal injury cases are settled before going to trial, there is still a chance you may have to go to court to obtain the money owed to you for injuries and losses you sustained as a result of a motorcycle accident. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have a choice of filing your claim in small claims, state, or federal court. Here's the difference between these options.
Small Claims Court
Small claims court is named thus because court judges only hear cases under a certain dollar amount. For example, the maximum you can sue for in a Michigan small claims court is $5,500. Plaintiffs and defendants represent themselves, though some states let them have their attorneys present. Because of this, evidentiary rules tend to be more relaxed. For instance, the judge may be more willing to call and speak to a witness who cannot be present for whatever reason whereas a state civil court judge would not.
This court is best suited for simple, straightforward cases where the basic facts generally aren't in dispute. For example, you and the defendant agree that he hit you while making a left turn at a light. However, the defendant disagrees with the amount of damages you're asking for. Judges typically render decisions the same day as the hearing, though sometimes they may postpone the decision if circumstances warrant it. All things considered, though, cases that go to small claims court are resolved faster and cheaper than those that go to state or federal civil court.
State Civil Court
The majority of personal injury cases end up in state civil court. There is no minimum or maximum limit to the amount of money you can sue for. However, the case must involve state law in some way to be heard in this court. For example, vehicle accident cases are heard in these courts because they deal with state driving laws. Lawsuits over civil right violations are generally heard in federal court because federal laws are typically involved.
While you are not stuck with an upper limit when filing in state civil court, the costs are higher. This is mostly because you must be represented by an attorney. As a US citizen, you of course have the right to represent yourself in court, however, state civil courts are much stricter about evidentiary procedures than small claims courts, and a simple mistake can cause lead to a case dismissal. Even if you have legal experience, you're better off being represented by an attorney, such as a motorcycle accident attorney, in this courtroom.
Cases also take longer to resolve because a variety of motions are typically filed and must be decided on at hearings. For instance, the defendant may file a motion to dismiss the case. You both must go to court and argue your side of the issue and then the judge decides whether to grant the motion or let the case proceed. At the same time, you are typically given more opportunity to prove your case than you probably would in small claims court.
State civil court is best for cases that involve amounts over the maximum limit set by a small claims court and/or involve complex issues. Accident cases involving multiple parties or where the facts are highly in dispute are appropriate for this level of court.
As noted previously, you may be offered the opportunity to take your case to federal court if your lawsuit involves some type of federal law violation, occurs on federally owned property, or spans multiple states. For instance, if you get into an accident while riding in a national park, your case may be heard in federal court since the property is owned by the federal government and overseen by the National Park Service.
Other than that, the process of suing in federal court is practically the same as suing in a state court. You definitely want to be represented by a lawyer and the process can take awhile from start to finish. If you have a choice between state civil court and federal court, you may want to choose state civil court to take full advantage of your attorney's knowledge, experience, and contacts in the area.
For more information about the different courts your case may be heard in or help with litigating a case, contact a personal injury lawyer.