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Choosing between state court and federal court – a plaintiff’s perspective

By May 17, 2004law practice

I ran into a friend of mine who is a personal injury lawyer the other day. We were lamenting the inefficiency of the legal system when he proceeded to tell me about his ‘against the grain’ strategy of preferring to file Jones Act cases (which are maritime personal injury cases) in federal court. When I was clerking in federal court there were a lot of Jones Act cases filed there, but in the past few years plaintiffs’ attorneys have diverted their filings to state court where the prospect of a large verdict is higher.

My friend said he thinks in most cases he is better off in federal court where the cases move more quickly. The prospect of a really high verdict is overblown in state court, he reasons. And, he points out, if the verdict is too high you have to deal with even further delays as the case is appealed.

I thought that his approach was sensible, but then he’s not the sort of attorney who follows the herd. These days the personal injury herd in Louisiana is dutifully filing its cases in state courts, especially in Civil District Court. And the personal injury docket in federal court is probably lower than it’s ever been. You would think that more plaintiffs’ lawyers would opt for federal court, where a quick and certain recovery is likely to be had in cases where liability is probable. But, then, not all plaintiffs’ lawyers are out for a quick and certain recovery.

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