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Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in State or Federal Court?

Filing a personal injury lawsuit in state  or federal court.

The United States has a complex legal system. We have both state and federal courts. And these courts often have overlapping jurisdiction to hear certain types of cases. For example, say you are injured in a slip and fall accident at a store. You need to file a personal injury lawsuit against the store owner to seek compensation for your medical bills and other damages. If the accident took place here in Houston, you would normally file your lawsuit in a Harris County district court. This is because personal injury claims are generally governed by Texas state law.

But if the store is owned by an out-of-state company–say it is part of a national chain–the defense may attempt to transfer or “remove” the case from state to federal court, such as the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Large companies often favor removal for a couple of reasons. First, while the substantive law of Texas still governs the case in federal court, the procedural rules for managing the lawsuit are different. Attorneys who represent large companies are often more familiar and thus more comfortable with the federal procedural rules. A second, related reason is that cases in federal court draw a jury from a wider pool–the Southern District covers a much larger geographic area than just Harris County–which is thought to minimize any “home court” advantage the plaintiff might have.

Diversity and the $75,000 Threshold

Not every personal injury case can be removed from state to federal court. There are two key requirements for removal. First, there needs to be “complete diversity” of the parties. This just means that the plaintiff and the defendant must be citizens of different states. A corporation is usually a citizen of the state where they are incorporated.

Single Defendant Cases

In cases where there is more than one defendant, diversity is defeated if any single defendant resides in the same state as the plaintiff. So let’s consider a hypothetical commercial trucking accident. A Houston resident is injured in a crash caused by a negligent tractor-trailer driver. She sues both the driver and the owner of the truck. The owner is a company registered in Louisiana but the driver is a Texas resident. Under that scenario, the defendants could not remove the case to federal court because there is not complete diversity.

The second requirement for removal is that the “amount in controversy” must exceed $75,000. So if you file a personal injury lawsuit and only ask for $50,000 in damages, the defendant cannot remove the case to federal court even if the complete diversity requirement is met. In many cases, it is not immediately apparent if this threshold is met. Under Texas court rules, a plaintiff filing a personal injury lawsuit can plead a “range” of expected damages without giving a specific dollar amount upfront. But federal rules require the defendant to provide evidence that the plaintiff’s damages are likely to exceed $75,000. Speak with a Houston Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Speak with a Houston Personal Injury Lawyer Today

As you can see, there are a number of procedural rules and issues that need to be resolved in even a simple personal injury case. That is why you should always work with a qualified Houston slip-and-fall attorney who can guide you through the process. Contact The Stano Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.”