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Following a car accident, there are two important concepts that dictate where a personal injury victim can bring a lawsuit against the responsible party: jurisdiction and venue. Jurisdiction is the power of a court to render a judgment in a case. Subject matter jurisdiction gives a court the power to hear a particular type of case, whereas personal jurisdiction gives a court the power to render a judgment against an individual defendant. But in most cases, there are multiple courts which have both subject matter and personal jurisdiction. Venue rules narrow things down further to determine which of these courts is proper. 

Subject Matter Jurisdiction 

Every county in Georgia has either a State Court or Superior Court that has subject matter jurisdiction to hear personal injury claims. If a plaintiff and defendant are from different states, and the case is valued at over $75,000, it is possible to bring a claim in federal court under what is known as diversity jurisdiction. Federal courts also have subject matter jurisdiction in cases involving federal law. 

What is Personal Jurisdiction? 

Personal jurisdiction is the power of a court to render judgments over an individual. The requirement that courts have personal jurisdiction is rooted in the United States Constitution. Specifically, the concept stems from the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which establishes that every person in the country has a right to due process of law. Accordingly, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that it fundamentally violates due process to subject a person to the judgments of a state that they may have never even been to. Therefore, a state court can only render a judgment over someone that has had “minimal contacts” with that state. 

If a defendant was driving in the State of Georgia and caused an accident in the state, this would automatically qualify as “minimal contacts.” Therefore, the State of Georgia will always have personal jurisdiction over defendants that caused an accident in the state. Courts in a defendant’s home state, or “domicile,” will also automatically have personal jurisdiction over them. 

Claims Against Out-of-State Defendants 

If a defendant caused an accident in the State of Georgia, then the State of Georgia will have personal jurisdiction over them. Period. It doesn’t matter if the person was only visiting and then went back home to Timbuktu. Georgia statutory law has defined the personal jurisdiction that Georgia courts hold over out-of-state defendants that commit torts in Georgia under the Georgia Long Arm Statute. According to this law, Georgia “may exercise personal jurisdiction over any nonresident” that “commits a tortious act or omission within this state.” 

Accidents Occurring Out-of-State 

When an accident occurs in another state, a lawsuit will either need to be made in that state, or the state where the defendant is domiciled. For instance, if a Georgia resident travels across the state line into Florida and is in an accident with a vacationer from New York, they could not bring a claim in Georgia. They would need to bring their claim in either Florida or New York. 

Proper Venue 

Venue rules narrow things down further. Each state has its own venue rules. Determining the proper venue for a tort case in Georgia generally depends on where the defendant lives. 

The basic venue rule. The basic venue rule for personal injury actions in Georgia is that venue is proper in the county where the defendant lives. So, although the entire State of Georgia will have personal jurisdiction over a defendant that lives in Georgia, proper venue will only be in the county where they are from. 

Joint tortfeasors. When a case has multiple Georgia-domiciled defendants, a suit may be filed in the county where any of the defendants live. 

Out-of-state defendants. If a lawsuit is filed against an out-of-state defendant, special venue rules apply. If a claim is brought under the Georgia Long Arm Statute, venue is proper in the county where the accident occurred.  Claims against out-of-state defendants can also be brought under the Georgia Non-Resident Motorist Act. Under this law, venue is proper in the county where the accident occurred, or in the country where the victim lives. 

Corporate defendants. Generally, artificial persons like corporations must be sued where they are registered or where their business is headquartered. 

For More Information, or to Discuss Your Case, Contact Williams Elleby Howard & Easter 

Establishing jurisdiction is often hotly contested. Sometimes one party wants the case to be heard in state court and the other in federal court. Sometimes a defendant denies that the State of Georgia has personal jurisdiction over them. And even once jurisdiction is determined to exist, the proper venue can sometimes also be contested as well. It important for personal injury victims to consult with experienced personal injury attorneys to find out where they can bring their claim. 

If you have been injured in a car accident and would like more information, contact Williams Elleby Howard & Easter, today. The experienced and qualified personal injury attorneys at Williams Elleby Howard & Easter, have deep knowledge of personal injury law and the Georgia court system. They are dedicated to getting accident victims the compensation they deserve. Call today to schedule a free consultation at 833-LEGALGA.

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