State versus Federal Court for a Wrongful Death Claim

Categories: Wrongful Death

state vs federal courts

The following blog article was updated in January 2022.

Wrongful Death Attorneys Explain the Importance of Choosing the Right Court to File a Claim

When one thinks of a personal injury case or wrongful death claim, they think of a state court. However, the opposing party or the plaintiff may attempt to move the case to federal court. In this instance, it is typically a larger defendant who wishes to go from the state-level to the federal judicial system.

The Consequences of Picking the Wrong Court

If you file your wrongful death claim in the wrong court, a defendant may ask to move it to another court that is less convenient for you, the plaintiff. Worse, the case might be dismissed for being placed in the wrong court, to begin with.

A dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, however, does not bar you from filing again. Instead, it is just an inconvenience, and your wrongful death attorney would then file in the proper jurisdiction. However, it does affect your statute of limitations, and if you are nearing the expiration, you must work quickly to re-file in the proper court.

What do Wrongful Death Cases fall Under Federal Court Jurisdiction?

The odds are that your wrongful death claim would be in state court; not federal. However, there are federal subject matter jurisdictions that typically fall under questions of federal law, such as:

  • You are filing a wrongful death suit against a police officer for violating your loved one’s civil rights.
  • You are suing a larger corporation for violating specific federal laws.
  • You are suing a defendant from another state or another country.

Reasons Why a Company Might Opt for Federal Court over State Courts

If a wrongful death claim involves a large corporation, such as a manufacturer of a vehicle and defective components that lead to death, there are chances the defendant will opt for federal jurisdiction and request that their state-level wrongful death case be heard in federal court.

This move to federal court is strategic and often due to multiple factors:

  • There is a perception that federal courts are friendly. Some defense attorneys will “forum shop,” which means they find a venue that is more favorable toward their client. Jury panels will be different depending on the city and state too.
  • Fearing jury awards from the state. Damage caps can still lead to high-value settlements in state courts. However, there are counties across the country with limited damage awards, and a defendant may try to switch there as a result.
  • Being more familiar with the federal court system. Sometimes, a company has more familiarity with the federal judicial system; therefore, they prefer their case heard there. Lawyers who typically defend large corporations in class action lawsuits are versed in federal court much better than state-level procedures.
  • Convenience. Sometimes, it is a matter of convenience. The federal courts do move faster than state courts, which saves time and money for both sides. Federal courts have discovery rules that are less stressful and more cost-effective too.

Which Jurisdiction Applies?

It is best to speak with a wrongful death attorney in Washington to see which court is best for your case. Sometimes your case can be heard in state or federal, so your attorney may need to weigh the pros and cons of each.

To explore your options, contact an attorney at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC by calling 800-925-1875 or request more information online.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.