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Supreme Court Limits Jurisdiction in Personal Injury Lawsuits


It’s not enough to have a viable personal injury complaint against a negligent defendant — you also have to file that complaint in the proper court. Otherwise your claims can be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

What Is Jurisdiction?

There are two types of jurisdiction: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction refers to a court’s authority to hear a particular type of claim, or subject matter. For example, a federal bankruptcy court is specifically charged with deciding bankruptcy cases. Personal jurisdiction refers to a court’s power over particular parties in a case. In other words, courts don’t have blanket authority to decide cases involving every person in the world. The party must have certain minimum contacts with the jurisdiction in question.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a decision in a case asking whether a Montana court had personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state corporation. The court held that Montana’s jurisdictional rule violated the U.S. Constitution and limited where companies can be sued in personal injury lawsuits. That decision, while targeted at Montana, affects every court in the country, including here in Florida.

The Lawsuit

The Supreme Court case involved two lawsuits filed by two different parties against the same company, BNSF Railway. The first lawsuit was filed by a North Dakota man who claimed he injured his knee while working for the railroad in Washington state. The second lawsuit was filed by a South Dakota woman whose husband worked for the railroad in three different states. She claimed that he developed cancer while working for the railroad and blamed the company for his death.

They both filed their lawsuits in Montana, which has a rule claiming personal jurisdiction over “persons found” in the state. While BNSF has railway lines in Montana, it is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Texas. The fact that a company does business in a particular state does not satisfy the constitutional test (minimum contacts) for personal jurisdiction, the Supreme Court held.

What Does This Decision Mean for Me?

The most important takeaway for personal injury plaintiffs is that you have to be careful when selecting a jurisdiction in which to file your lawsuit. If your claims are dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction then it will cost more time and more money to refile your claims in the proper court. Moreover, depending on when you filed your claims initially you might run up on statute of limitations issues (the statutory deadline for filing your claims). That is why you should always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. 

Let Us Help You with Your Case

If you or a loved one has been injured because of someone else’s negligence, you might be entitled to compensation. Contact a Fort Myers personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation. We will help you determine whether you have a viable claim, against what parties, and where to file the lawsuit.

The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Daytona and Bradenton areas.




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