Jurisdiction refers to a court’s legal power and authority to hear and decide on a case. Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “the power and authority constitutionally conferred upon (or constitutionally recognized as existing in) a court or judge to pronounce the sentence of the law, or to award the remedies provided by law, upon a state of facts..” A court must have both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction to hear cases properly.

What Is Subject Matter Jurisdiction?

Subject matter jurisdiction means that the court has the authority to hear the type of case in front of it and that the court has the authority to rule on this particular claim. The court must meet both requirements to have subject matter jurisdiction.

For example, if you file a lawsuit for your injuries from a car accident, the court where you file the action court must have authority to handle personal injury cases. A court that has only the power to rule on juvenile cases, for instance, would not have jurisdiction over your claim. Also, the accident must have occurred within the geographic boundaries of the court’s jurisdiction for the court to have the authority to hear your specific case. By way of example, an Alabama court cannot try a personal injury case from a car accident that happened in Pennsylvania.

What Is Personal Jurisdiction?

The court has to have jurisdiction over the parties to the lawsuit, a concept known as personal jurisdiction. Having actual contacts in a state usually establishes personal jurisdiction. If you have never been to a particular state and have no contacts with that state, the state usually does not have the right to decide cases involving you.

A Tennessee resident files a lawsuit against you, a Pennsylvania resident, claiming that, when the Tennessee resident was visiting Pennsylvania, you were negligent and harmed her. The Tennessee courts do not have jurisdiction over you if the alleged incident happened in Pennsylvania and you have no contacts with Tennessee. The court cannot force you to go to Tennessee.

Why Does Jurisdiction Matter in Personal Injury Claims?

Jurisdictional requirements protect us by ensuring that the court that decides a case has an interest in the matter. The Tennessee court has no interest in a car accident that happened in Pennsylvania.

Since the trial court should apply Pennsylvania law to an accident that took place in Pennsylvania, a Tennessee court is not the best place to hear the case. Tennessee judges will be less familiar with Pennsylvania law than Pennsylvania judges.

What Should I Do if I Receive a Summons From a Court That Does Not Have Jurisdiction Over the Case or Me?

You will have a limited amount of time to file the proper motions to challenge the court’s jurisdiction. If you take too long to file the motions, you can lose the case by default. Filing jurisdictional motions is tricky. If you make one misstep, you may fall into the trap of subjecting yourself to the jurisdiction of the court without intending to do so.

You should talk with a personal injury lawyer right away if you suspect there are jurisdictional issues in your case. The attorneys at Berger and Green will evaluate your case at no cost and advise you on your options. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to set up your free consultation.