The United States has a dual court system composed of both state and federal courts. The systems have many similarities to one another but also some key differences. A plaintiff’s attorney who is looking to file an explosion lawsuit will choose either the state or federal court as the original place of filing. The choice is sometimes obvious or required but sometimes depends upon a matter of strategy. An attorney choosing between state or federal court must consider many factors, including the differences in rules, the perceived attitudes of potential jurors, and the familiarity of the lawyer with the specific court in which the case is being filed. A consideration of several important factors will ultimately decide whether your case ends up in federal or state court.
Structure of State and Federal Court Systems
Each state court is structured in a slightly different fashion. However, a case filed in state court is typically filed in the county where the plaintiff or the defendant resides. The case is assigned to a judge and, if it makes its way through the court process, will eventually get to a trial.
Following the trial, if one party decides to appeal, the case will be heard by the state appellate court. An appellate court at the state level will hear thousands of cases each year and will decide many of them simply on briefs submitted by the parties. Once the appellate court issues its opinion, the case normally ends. However, a party may appeal one additional level to the supreme court of that state. Typically, the state supreme court is the highest court in a state court jurisdiction.
Unlike state courts, which are divided into districts by county, the federal court has individual districts composed of many counties within a state. A federal court district, by contrast, typically covers a much larger geographical area than a state court district. While there may be 20 or more state court districts in a given state, typically, there are no more than three to five federal court districts in the same state.
When a federal court case is appealed, it proceeds to what is known as a federal circuit court. The circuit court is an intermediate appeals level and typically covers multiple states. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, hears cases from the following states:
- New Mexico
- Yellowstone National Park territory in Montana and Idaho
As a result of the much larger geographical area, laws that are made by federal courts can apply to multiple states at one time, whereas laws made by state courts typically apply only within the boundaries of that individual state.
Trials in State and Federal Courts
The manner in which trials proceed is also different depending on which courtroom is chosen for your explosion accident case.
Perhaps the most notable difference is in how juries are selected, a process known as voir dire. In state court, the attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant typically conduct the voir dire process. This allows each attorney to ask in-depth questions of prospective jurors. By having control over the questions that are asked, an attorney at the state court level may feel as though they have a better understanding of their jury members.
At the federal court level, by contrast, juror voir dire is typically conducted largely by federal judges. While federal rules do allow the judge to let the attorneys ask questions, many judges simply handle the process themselves. With the questions being directed by the judge, attorneys are likely to feel somewhat limited in the information that is gathered during the jury selection process.
Another key difference is the size of the jury. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that a trial may begin with as few as six or as many as 12 jurors. State court jury sizes vary by individual jurisdiction. However, 33 states now require that a civil trial have 12 jurors on the panel. Other states require as few as six to eight jurors.
Depending on the nature of your claims, a smaller or larger jury may be favored. Skilled trial attorneys will take note of the jury selection process as well as the size of the jury panel in order to inform their decision about the appropriate forum in which to pursue your explosion accident case.
Federal and State Court Procedure
Federal and state courts typically have different methods of procedure. Each jurisdiction has its own set of civil procedure rules that must be followed by lawyers and litigants. In addition, courts often have their own local rules to which attorneys must adhere.
The procedural rules can affect everything from how pretrial discovery is conducted to deadlines for submitting briefs and motions to the selection of trial dates. Typically a case moves faster in federal court, and discovery can be more limited. Cases in federal court are more often decided on briefs and other written materials that are submitted by the and are less reliant on oral arguments.
Some attorneys feel less comfortable in one jurisdiction versus the other. A local attorney who practices personal injury cases may not have experience trying cases in federal court. This lack of experience can result in the attorney selecting the state court as the jurisdiction for their lawsuit.
In a serious explosion accident case, it is important to have more than one option. At Burg Simpson, our national explosion accident lawyers choose the appropriate court that will best suit the needs of the case and the goals of our clients.
National Explosion Accident Lawyers
The choice of where to file a case is a crucial decision made by your attorney at the outset of litigation. Selecting the appropriate forum can make or break your claim.
At Burg Simpson, we have successfully litigated cases in both state and federal courts and obtained favorable outcomes for our clients. Our attorneys are here to help you at any time. To schedule your free consultation with our nationwide explosion accident attorneys, please reach out to us using our online intake form or give us a call at (888) 895-2080.