Which Jurisdiction’s Law Applies in a Personal Injury Case?

The United States has two separate sets of laws that govern the citizens of each state. There is federal law and state law. Each state has their own law, and as long as it does not conflict with the federal law in that same area, the state law will apply to many cases. This is especially true in personal injury cases, since most personal injury cases do not give rise to federal court “jurisdiction.”

The term “jurisdiction” essentially means the power to hear a case and impose judgment over the parties to the case. For example, a court in New Mexico will not likely have jurisdiction over a case arising between two Marylanders who get into an accident on a Maryland road. In that case, Maryland would likely be the most proper venue for the lawsuit.

As noted above, each state has the ability to create its own set of laws, and it stands to reason that the law in every state will be a little bit different. This can create major consequences for accident victims in certain cases because under one state’s law a victim’s case may be strong, but under another state’s law the case may be much weaker. This also can have implications regarding the applicable statute of limitations, or the time in which the accident victim has to file their lawsuit against the defendant.

A Recent Dispute Over Which State’s Law Applies

Earlier this month, one state supreme court decided a case that required the court to determine which of two states’ laws applied. In the case, Woodward v. Taylor, the plaintiff was injured when he was involved in a serious car accident allegedly caused by the defendant. Both the plaintiff and the defendant were from Washington, but the car accident occurred in Idaho.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a back-seat passenger in the vehicle that the defendant was driving. Road conditions were icy, and the evidence suggested that the defendant set the cruise control at 82 miles per hour. The defendant lost control of the vehicle, which spun out of control and rolled. The plaintiff sustained serious neck injuries as a result.

The plaintiff filed suit just over two years after the accident in a Washington court. Washington’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases is three years. However, Idaho’s statute of limitations is just two years. The defendant claimed that Idaho’s law should apply because the accident occurred in that jurisdiction. Ultimately, the court disagreed and determined that Washington law applied to the case because there was no actual substantive conflict of the two states’ laws. The only conflict was the statute-of-limitations issue. Since there was no actual conflict, the court determined that Washington retained jurisdiction over the case, and the three-year statute of limitations applied.

Have You Been Injured in an Out-of-State Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in an accident occurring in the state of Maryland or the District of Columbia, or involving parties from another state, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Maryland and D.C. laws can be harsh when it comes to financial recovery for accident victims, and it may be in your best interest to see if another state’s law applies to your case. If it does, you may increase your chance of recovery. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a skilled personal injury advocate to speak about your case.

More Blog Posts:

Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Case Against Federal Government Allowed To Proceed, Despite Immunity Claims, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 19, 2016

Dangerous Products and Product Liability Lawsuits, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 12, 2016

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