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Car accident’s in New York-Choosing Federal Court over State Court can be effective

Court House

When I first started this firm over 17 years ago, often the first decision I or my associates had to make when taking on a matter is where would we bring or start the action.  The first thing to consider is jurisdiction.  Jurisdiction essentially means the ability for a Court in the State of New York to hear the action.  Though this can be discussed in great length, if we take a car accident for example, the Courts of the State of New York always have jurisdiction as if you drive a car in NY and get into an accident you have subjected yourself to being sued in New York.  The next and sometimes more important question is where within the New York Court system can you venue the case.

Venue is a choice of which county the case can be brought and is controlled by  CPLR Section 503.

Under the venue provisions one may bring a lawsuit in a county in which they are a resident, the defendant is a resident, or if a corporation, where the corporation principal executive office is.  Again if we focus on the car accident arena for this article, you can look to the residence for the parties and choose.  If suing a municipality like the City of New York or any City agency you must venue the case in the county in which the accident occurred.  If all parties are not from any County in New York but the accident occurs in New York, the Plaintiff may choose any county he or she wishes.

I was faced with an interesting dilemma this past week.  A car accident occurs in Queens when my client was rear ended while stopped at a light.  My client lives in Manhattan and she was struck in the rear by a truck owned by a New Jersey Company and operated by a New Jersey Driver.  She has already had a spinal surgical procedure and has been out of work for almost a year.  Her life has seriously been altered because of the negligence of another.   As discussed, we have Jurisdiction in the State of New York, as under the Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 253 anyone driving in New York is subjected to jurisdiction to be sued in New York.

The slight and interesting twist here is that I can only venue the case in New York County as that is where my client resides.  New York County has as would be expected very conservative jurors and more than that has recently become very back logged though the Court administration is trying to work on speeding up the process.  The backlog is not due to the lack of effort by the Judge’s or clerks but rather the lack of funding from the State budget and in return the resources to have adequate staffing in place does not exist.  A case can take 2-3 years to get to trial once you place the case on the trial calendar in New York and getting to that point can be 2 years from the incident.  A five year wait for our client to have their access to justice can be a challenging and difficult hurdle.

Here, I thought of a better option.  As the defendant’s are both from New Jersey, the case can be brought in Federal Court in New York.  Federal Court hears disputes among parties from two different states.  This is called diversity jurisdiction.  In addition, the Federal District Court that would here this case is the Southern District which is comprised of jurors from New York, Westchester, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam & Sullivan Counties.  Most importantly, it has become my experience that with adequate federal funding and jurists who have very competent law clerk’s and staff as well as a host of magistrates, the litigation can be completed in 2 years in total from inception or the incident.

In conclusion, researching and thinking about your jurisdiction and venue options and discussing them with your client is critical to both maintaining open dialogue with them but also developing a strategy that allows the case to be heard in an expedited fashion without jeopardizing any of their rights.  I was glad I didn’t rush to judgment as most lawyers and firms would.  I believe this will serve my client and I well as we move forward.