Proper Venue for a Personal Injury Lawsuit in California
There are many different types of courts that we hear about -- trial courts, appellate courts, supreme courts, courts at the state level, and courts at the federal level. When it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit in a personal injury claim, there are specific facts in the case that will determine what is the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit and what is the proper venue for the lawsuit. What are the legal meanings of these terms?Proper Venue and Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction refers to what parties -- plaintiffs and defendants -- the courts have authority over, as well as what types of legal matters the courts have authority over. As to jurisdiction over the parties, for example, state courts in California generally have jurisdiction over any person who lives in California and over any corporation that does business in California. As to the type of legal matters a court has jurisdiction over (or "subject matter jurisdiction"), this usually falls into one of three types:
- Courts of general jurisdiction: These are general purpose courts that can hear all matters other than those that are required by a particular law to be held in a single, specific court. A good example of courts of general jurisdiction are the superior courts located in each county in California.
- Courts of limited jurisdiction: These are courts that have specific limits upon the types of cases they can decide. An example of a court of limited jurisdiction would be small claims courts. In California, small claims courts can only decide cases with up to $10,000 in disputed damages. "Limited civil courts" in California -- which are actually organized within the superior court system but have special rules that apply to them -- can only hear cases with up to $25,000 in disputed damages. In many other states, these limited claims courts may actually be organized entirely separately from the "general purpose" superior court system.
- Courts of exclusive jurisdiction: Some legal matters are required by law only to be heard in specific courts. For example, bankruptcy cases can only be presented to federal bankruptcy courts. Other subject matters may be split -- under the U.S. Constitution, maritime law cases related to personal injuries can be heard in either state or federal courts, but maritime law cases for salvaged cargo can only be heard in federal court.
Venue, on the other hand, refers to the geographic location of the courts that can hear a matter. In California, the superior courts are organized at the county level, typically with multiple departments handling different types of matters. In which county superior court can a lawsuit properly be filed, or "venued?" The proper venue for lawsuits filed in personal injury claims in California is determined by the rules specified in the California Code of Civil Procedure, based upon:
- Where a defendant resides. California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) Section 395 states that, "The superior court in the county where the defendants or some of them reside . . . is the proper court for trial. . . ."
- Where the injury occurred. CCP 395 also states that, "The county where the injury occurs or the injury causing death occurs . . . is a proper court for trial. . . ."
- Where a defendant corporation (CCP 395.5) or an unincorporated association (CCP 395.2) has its principal place of business.
It's clear from the statutes cited above that many situations will arise in which more than one county superior court may be a proper venue for a particular lawsuit to be filed. Imagine, for example, a personal injury lawsuit resulting from a trucking accident where the collision took place in County A, the defendant truck driver resides in County B, and the defendant trucking company employing that driver has its principal place of business in County C. Any of the three county superior courts would be a proper venue for filing a lawsuit based upon these facts.
Every superior court is different, and an experienced personal injury attorney will carefully consider where to file a personal injury lawsuit before making a choice. For example, some superior courts may suffer from a greater backlog of cases than others, in which case filing suit in the less busy court may see the client's case resolved more quickly. More often, the choice of venue will be made upon each county court's reputation for favorably deciding different types of cases:
- Which ones tend to be more or less "plaintiff-friendly" or "defendant-friendly."
- Which ones tend to be more or less generous in their average trial verdicts.
- Which ones may tend to favor a defendant business or government agency because it's a "home town" entity.
Determining all the potential proper venues based upon the specific facts of each personal injury claim and then selecting the option that will best fit for the individual client's case is one area where a personal injury attorney's experience and knowledge can definitely "add value" to the client's claim. (The insurance companies and their defense attorneys certainly take this into account.)
Even within a single county's superior court, there may be multiple locations where a lawsuit is physically taken for filing. View this video to see the complex process of figuring out where to file just in a single California county -- Orange County:Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer
Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I am a Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer. Taking the step from a personal injury claim against an insurance company to a personal injury lawsuit filed in superior court is a significant action, and it needs to take into account all the facts in a client's case -- especially those that will determine the proper venue and the best venue for filing suit. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in an accident, please call our experienced personal injury attorneys for free, friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400, or reach out to us by using our online contact form.
See our outstanding case results on our past verdicts and settlements page.
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