Facade of courthouse with columns.

Personal Injury Cases: 5 Ways Federal and State Cases are Different—and What You Need to Know

While most personal injury cases are tried in the state courts, there are instances in which they must progress to a higher, federal court. But, when exactly does this happen, and how should you prepare? Here are the important aspects of managing your case at either level, and what you need to know.


The two main reasons why cases progress to federal court

In the state of North Carolina, personal injury cases are generally tried at the state court level, or the de facto jurisdiction. State laws pertaining to negligence are largely the reasons for this. And, in our state, each county has its own courthouse which handles these personal injury cases. 

However, there are a couple of instances in which personal injury cases may be elevated from state courts and instead be tried at a federal court.

​​1. Diversity Jurisdiction. One of the more common reasons a personal injury case may move to the federal courts is due to something called “diversity jurisdiction”.  This is when the defendant lives in a different state than the plaintiff. 

Occasions like this may be common with car accidents, for example, when one driver resides out-of-state. If this happens and the case is removed to federal court, North Carolina personal injury laws still apply.


2. Original jurisdiction. If the underlying law that’s broken in your personal injury case is a federal law, then this too necessitates your case move to federal courts. Referred to as “original jurisdiction”, this is rather rare—but does occasionally happen.

Most personal injury law is based on state law, but if your injury was caused by police brutality or if you were in an accident caused by a malfunctioning product—those are a couple examples of federal escalation.


Five ways personal injury cases are different in federal and state courts

While there are similarities between federal and state court cases—such as juries, procedural rules, how evidence is handled, and so on—there are some notable differences between the two jurisdictions.

  • Juries. Jurors are generally selected from multiple counties within the case's home state. But, in state courts, they are sourced from the personal injury case’s county and state of origin.
  • Judges. In smaller state courts, judges are typically elected through an election in their home county. But at a federal level, judges are appointed by the United States president.
  • Court rules. How cases are governed also plays a big role and is served differently between state and federal courts. In federal court, each motion must also carry a brief (which can increase the litigation cost). Also, you may not have the opportunity to argue your motion’s points in federal court—but you can in state courts.
  • Timing. Personal injury cases in federal court can take quite a while to process. This is largely due to federal court judges requiring more time (often up to a year) to rule on preliminary motions. During this in-between time, litigants must wait in limbo for their case to progress. 
  • Selecting a jury. In North Carolina, the process of attorney’s interviewing potential jurors (referred to as “voir dire'' can take days. But in federal court, this process is more limited and can be preempted by the judge.


Getting support for your personal injury case—no matter if you’re headed to federal or state court 

If you, the plaintiff (or injured person), and the defendant (the party that injured you) are both from the state of North Carolina, your case will likely be heard by the state court—and not progress to a federal level.

Regardless, having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side is critical to any successful case. Let us help you sort through the process and ensure your best interests are justly served. Please call us at (888) 253-4071 today to learn more about our background and services. 

When it comes to discerning the appropriate jurisdiction or path of litigation, we will work closely with you to find the best options available. Our goal is always to support you and help you understand all facets of your personal injury case.  

We look forward to helping you find the best path forward to a full recovery and receiving the financial support and legal help you deserve. 


 Note: This blog is intended to be informational only and shall not be construed as legal advice.