In personal injury cases, plaintiffs often have a choice as to where to file their complaint against the defendant. This occurs most often when the plaintiff resides in a different state from all of the defendants. In such cases, plaintiffs can file suit where they live, as long as most of the witnesses for their case — medical providers, people who might have seen the accident or know about the circumstances leading up to the injury — also live there. Plaintiffs can also usually choose to sue a corporate defendant where their corporate headquarters are located. In some cases, when the site of the accident or injury is in yet a third jurisdiction, plaintiffs can conceivably file suit there.
Most plaintiffs prefer to file suit close to home, rather than in some other state. But even if you choose to file in your home state, you will need to decide whether to file in state or federal court. In my home jurisdiction of Washington, DC, that means deciding between the DC Superior Court (DC’s equivalent of a state court) and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, our federal court.
Some practitioners prefer to file in the DC Superior Court. The biggest advantages to filing in the Superior Court usually lie in timing: cases often move to trial faster in Superior Court than in the federal courts. Plaintiffs are more likely to keep their trial dates in Superior Court than in federal court, where the trial date may be pushed back to make room for important criminal cases. Additionally, in the rare personal injury case that ends up on appeal, DC court system judges are generally friendlier to plaintiffs than are federal judges.
But after years of experience pursuing medical malpractice law in both DC local and federal courts, my preference remains to file suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, in the federal system. I have found the judges and law clerks in the federal system to be of very high quality. The federal PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) electronic filing system is easy to use and helps keep plaintiff costs down, meaning that more of your settlement or judgment goes to you. Additionally, federal judges and magistrates push defendants hard to take seriously alternative dispute resolution options like mediation and arbitration. These can lead to a quicker, less risky resolution to your complaint than taking a personal injury case all the way to trial.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.