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Where Should You File Your Lawsuit?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

If you've suffered an injury, you may be tinkering with the idea of suing the party at fault. But where should you file your lawsuit?

First, you should wait until you can take a deep breath, unclench your angry fist and consider whether filing a lawsuit is the right decision.

If you've done that -- or just want to pursue a lawsuit with an angry fist -- the next step is to figure out which court is the most appropriate to hear your case. Here are some general considerations:

Initial Factors to Consider

There are a few initial questions you'll want to ask when figuring out where to file your lawsuit, such as:

  • Where did the injury occur? Generally, you can file a lawsuit in the county where the injury happened.
  • Where does the defendant live? Under personal jurisdiction, you can often file suit in the county where any defendant lives at the time the lawsuit is filed.
  • Where do you live? For practical purposes, this will help your attorney figure out what option is most convenient for you, geographically and financially.

Those questions can help you get started on where you might want to file your lawsuit. But another major decision is whether you should file in state or federal court.

State or Federal Court?

Most lawsuits that can be filed in federal court can also be filed in state court -- though there are some types of cases that can only be heard in federal court.

So how do you know which one to pick? Some attorneys go to great lengths to try to pick the court that will be most favorable for their lawsuit. This practice is called forum shopping.

The same goes for the reputations of judges and juries. Many attorneys think that federal court judges may be more forgiving than state court judges, or vice-versa. Jury panels also differ in views greatly based on whether it's a state or federal court.

Another consideration is the location of the court. For example, a lawyer might suggest filing a lawsuit in a state court just because it's much closer than the nearest federal courthouse. It may just be a matter of convenience.

A more important factor that lawyers take into account is the difference in statutes of limitations. If a plaintiff missed a state court filing deadline, filing in a federal court might still be an option.

Given the variety of options available, the assistance of an experienced attorney might be helpful in figuring out what venue is best for you.

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