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Should I File My Personal Injury Claim in State or Federal Court?


One of the questions we often get related to personal injury claims is whether you need to file your case in state or federal court. As a general rule, it is often to a plaintiff’s advantage to file in state court, especially if the defendant is a person or company who resides outside of Tennessee. Conversely, out-of-state defendants often invoke their right to transfer–or “remove”–state complaints to federal court, where they feel the rules benefit them. But these are only general guidelines, of course, and depending on the facts of a given case, a plaintiff may decide its more advantageous to proceed in federal court.

How “Diversity” Affects Where a Case Is Heard

Before any case can be heard in federal court, however, there must exist “complete diversity” among the parties. Diversity in this context does not refer to race or gender identity. Rather, it refers to diversity in the citizenship of the parties.

For example, say you are a Tennessee resident and get into a car accident with a resident of Mississippi who is simply passing through the state. You sue the other driver in Tennessee state court. The other driver could then remove the case to federal court since there is complete diversity–i.e., the plaintiff and defendant reside in different states.

But what happens when there are multiple defendants involved? To answer this question, let’s look at a real-world decision recently issued by a federal judge here in Knoxville. The underlying lawsuit involves a plaintiff who sued multiple defendants for injuries he sustained in a golf cart accident. Originally, the plaintiff filed suit in federal court because while he is a Virginia resident, the named defendants resided in either Tennessee or Florida, thus satisfying the “complete diversity” requirement for federal jurisdiction.

In responding to the plaintiff’s allegations, the defendants attempted to shift blame to a third party, a man who happens to Virginia like the plaintiff. The plaintiff then amended his complaint to add the third party as an additional plaintiff. The defendants then turned around and moved to dismiss the case, arguing that since there was no longer complete diversity, the federal court no longer had jurisdiction.

In response to this move, the plaintiff asked the judge for permission to dismiss the additional defendant, thereby restoring complete diversity. The judge granted the motion. Although the defendants argued the third party’s “absence” from the federal case might later force them to deal with a separate lawsuit in state court, the judge noted that by that same logic, granting removal would deprive the plaintiff of his preferred forum in federal court. And in these circumstances, the plaintiff is allowed “some discretion in where to file and whom to include in his suit.”

Speak With a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Decisions like where to a file a lawsuit can have a profound impact on the ultimate outcome of your case. That is why you should always work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer who understands the complexity of the legal system. Contact Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you have been injured by another person’s negligence and need legal advice on how to proceed.



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