Most of us have to travel at one time or another – the Holidays, vacations, going to the Big Game. Imagine this: John lives in San Antonio, and is visiting relatives in Fort Worth when another driver slams into the back of his car. John has injured his neck and back. He has tried to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company, but they just will not cooperate. Where should John, or his attorney file his car accident lawsuit?
Why Does It Matter Where I File a Lawsuit?
Our Court system requires people bringing their lawsuits in Courts with proper jurisdiction and venue. If a lawsuit is brought in the incorrect jurisdiction, it can be dismissed. If brought in the wrong venue, the other party can force the suit to be transferred to the proper venue.
How Do You Know Which Court Has Proper Jurisdiction?
A Court must have jurisdiction over a party before its ruling can be binding on that party. If a Court does not have jurisdiction over a defendant, its judgments and orders are not enforceable against him. There are two types of jurisdictions – subject matter and personal.
For purposes of a car wreck, if the wreck occurred in Texas, then a Texas Court will have personal jurisdiction. Normally, you want to file a lawsuit for a car wreck in a County Court at Law or a District Court in the state of Texas. If the damages are less than $10,000, you may also bring a lawsuit in a Justice of the Peace Court. I advise against filing in Justice of the Peace Courts for a car accident lawsuit as any judgment obtained in a Justice of the Peace court can be easily appealed. An appeal starts the whole process over again, wasting your time and money.
How Do You Know Which Court Has Proper Venue?
So, while determining jurisdiction for a Texas car wreck is pretty simple (on the surface), determining venue can be a little more tricky. For a car wreck, venue is usually established in either one of two places
- the county in which the accident occurred
- the county where the defendant resides
*if the defendant is a corporation, its “residence” is where its principal office is located.
Determining venue in your lawsuit can be very important for tactical reasons. Take our earlier example. John can very clearly file suit in Tarrant county for the car wreck he suffered while visiting Fort Worth because the accident occurred in Tarrant county. But what if the person who hit John lives in Dallas county? In that case, it may be a good strategy for John to file a lawsuit against the defendant in Dallas county rather than Tarrant county. This is because Dallas county juries are traditionally more sympathetic to those injured in car accidents than Tarrant county juries. Of course, this assumes you know the residence of the defendant at the time you file the lawsuit, which is not always the case.
If John files a lawsuit from his home town in Bexar county, the defense attorney would probably file a motion to transfer venue. This would have the case moved to Tarrant county. The defense attorney has experience. He knows he has a better chance to win his case in Tarrant county than in more plaintiff friendly counties like Bexar and Dallas.
The practical reality is that most car accident lawsuits are filed in the county in which the accident occurred. For better or worse, the county where your accident occurred can have an effect on the value of your case. If you have questions about where you should file a car accident lawsuit, then you should call a car accident lawyer and schedule a free consultation.