Imagine you are traveling through Maryland heading home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania after a Baltimore Orioles game. You come to a stop at a stoplight in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, reveling in your favorite team's win when suddenly you get rear ended. The driver apologizes and says he wasn't paying attention. Police are called, reports are created, and insurance companies are contacted.
A week later, at home in Pennsylvania, you are still in considerable pain and decide you want to contact an attorney. Now you wonder, where can you file a lawsuit? Maryland? Pennsylvania? Can you still sue a Maryland defendant even if you are from Pennsylvania? Can you sue a defendant who is from another state, such as Virginia, in a Maryland court?
These questions have to deal with jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is "[a] government's general power to exercise authority over all persons and things within its territory." Black's Law Dictionary 927 (9th ed. 2009). In order for a court to hear a case they must have both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction is "[j]urisdiction over the nature of the case and the type of relief sought." Black's Law Dictionary 931 (9th ed. 2009). Personal jurisdiction is "the power of a court over the parties in the case." Personal jurisdiction questions usually deal with the issue of what court a defendant can be hailed into. Plaintiffs, as the party initiating the lawsuit, are consenting to jurisdiction in whatever forum they file in. For example, if you file a lawsuit in Maryland you are consenting to jurisdiction in Maryland.
If You Are Suing A Maryland Resident For An Accident In Maryland
States have personal jurisdiction over citizens of their state. For example, if you are a citizen of Pennsylvania then the Pennsylvania courts have personal jurisdiction over you. Likewise, a Maryland defendant can be sued in the Maryland courts. Thus, in the scenario above if the driver who rear-ended you with his car is a citizen of Maryland you can likely bring a lawsuit against that driver in Maryland courts.
If You Are Suing A Non-Maryland Resident For An Accident In Maryland
You cannot be sued in every court in the union. There must be some basis for exercising jurisdiction over a defendant. For example, if you are citizen of Arizona and you are named as a defendant in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma court cannot exercise jurisdiction over you if you have no connection with the state. The key in determining whether or not you can be subject to a court's jurisdiction is your contacts with the state. The traditional rule comes from the case International Shoe v. Washington. This case states the a person must have "certain minimum contacts" with the forum state such that "maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 315 (1945).
Returning to the scenario above, if the driver who rear-ended you with his car was from Virginia, he must have some minimum contacts with Maryland such that filing a lawsuit against him in Maryland does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." The amount and type of contacts that is sufficient for the exercise of jurisdiction is determined on a case by case basis. Thus it would be up to a the court to determine if maintenance of the suit in Maryland would be proper.
In the car accident example, the law is such that if the defendant is from another state but causes an accident in Maryland, that person can be sued in Maryland. The minimum contacts can be driving through the state.
States typically have statutes that specify the extent of their courts jurisdiction. The Maryland statute reads in pertinent part:
§ 6-103. Cause of action arising from conduct in State or tortious injury outside State
(b) In general. -- A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who directly or by an agent:
(1) Transacts any business or performs any character of work or service in the State;
(2) Contracts to supply goods, food, services, or manufactured products in the State;
(3) Causes tortious injury in the State by an act or omission in the State;
(4) Causes tortious injury in the State or outside of the State by an act or omission outside the State if he regularly does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent course of conduct in the State or derives substantial revenue from goods, food, services, or manufactured products used or consumed in the State;
Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 6-103 (LexisNexis 2015).
Sections (3) and (4) require that the claim that gave rise the lawsuit occurred within Maryland. When minimum contacts are at issue, sections (1) and (2) are applicable. Thus, a court in Maryland can typically exercise jurisdiction over persons who commit tortious acts in the state, such as car accidents.
Contacting An Attorney
Jurisdictional questions can be quite complex and a skilled attorney can help you handle these types of issues. If you are from out-of-state and are considering filing a lawsuit in Maryland due to the injuries you or a loved one incurred while in Maryland, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.