Say you get in a car accident that was the other driver’s fault. You live in Warwick and the other driver lives in Massachusetts. If getting fair compensation for your injuries comes down to a lawsuit, where do you file the suit — in Rhode Island or Massachusetts?
Like often happens in the law, the answer is, “it depends.” And you might get to choose from more than one state to file your lawsuit.
Where you can file your lawsuit
The legal concept of which court has the power to hear a lawsuit is called “personal jurisdiction.” A court has jurisdiction over a defendant to a personal injury suit if:
- The defendant lives in the state where the court sits
- The defendant is physically in the court’s state when they are served notice of the lawsuit
- The defendant has certain minimal contacts with the state
So, in the scenario we laid out above, you could sue the bad driver in her home state of Massachusetts. Or, under Rhode Island’s “long arm” statute, you may also be able to sue them in this state. The long arm statute says that Rhode Island civil courts have personal jurisdiction over “every individual not a resident of this state” if they have “the necessary minimum contacts” with the state. Committing a negligent act that injured you, such as crashing into your vehicle while driving drunk on a Rhode Island highway, can count as a necessary minimum contact.
Why does this matter?
This might sound like a lot of legal technicalities. But having options for where you sue for personal injury can help your car accident case. You can choose the court that is closest to where you live and is most convenient for you. Also, courts in different states and districts can have a reputation for being more — or less — friendly to plaintiffs.
Such issues are not uncommon in Rhode Island, where people from nearby states frequently visit. Your attorney will explain if personal jurisdiction affects your claim and lay out your options.