The seasons are changing, and so is the population of drivers on the road. As Snowbirds from cold weather regions flock to Arizona to escape Old Man Winter, residents may start to notice more congested roadways. With the considerable influx of out of state drivers comes an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. Most resident motorists, however, are unaware of the complexities associated with accidents involving an out of state driver, especially when it comes to filing a lawsuit. To be best equipped to navigate an accident situation with a non-resident, it’s important to know how the law is applied and what steps to take.
State Jurisdiction and the Defendant
Following an accident with an out of state driver, many Arizona motorists are surprised to learn that they must first determine where they can file a suit before proceeding with the next steps. Unlike an accident involving two Arizona drivers where, by default, the case will be heard in state, suits involving out of state drivers must consider where jurisdiction lies. Jurisdiction simply refers to the court’s authority to oversee and hear a case. More specifically, personal jurisdiction pertains to a court’s authority over a defendant in a case.
If an accident occurs within one state where both drivers happen to be residents, the case must be heard in that state, regardless of which driver is the plaintiff and which is the defendant. That state has jurisdiction over its residents. So, how is jurisdiction assigned when the driver you are suing, the defendant, holds residence in another state? For a state to exercise jurisdiction over an out of state defendant, it must be proven that the defendant has minimum contacts with the state in which the court abides.
Snowbirds and the Minimum Contacts Theory
The theory of minimum contacts simply suggests that if that out of state defendant has substantial ties to the state in which the accident occurred, the state’s court may exercise jurisdiction over the defendant, allowing the plaintiff to file the lawsuit in that state. Some common examples of minimum contacts include, but are not limited to: conducting business operations in the state, frequent visitation, or being incorporated in the state.
However, even if minimum contacts are established between the defendant and the state in which the accident occurred, it is still not guaranteed that the plaintiff will be able to file the suit in that state. The reason for this is rooted in the defendant’s legal right to a fair and reasonable opportunity to defend in the state. If it is determined that an out of state case would interfere with the defendant’s right to due process or would pose an unreasonable inconvenience, the state will not exercise jurisdiction.
Regardless of the nature of the out of state defendant’s connection to the state where the accident transpired, the state may or may not exercise jurisdiction, which begs the natural question, “Will I have to travel for a lawsuit with an out of state driver?” In a nutshell, yes. Many times the lawsuit will require the plaintiff to travel to the defendant’s state. For example, let’s say you are an Arizona resident and were involved in an accident with an Ohio driver on the way home from work. And it is determined that no minimum contacts exist between the Ohio driver and the state of Arizona, or that it’s unreasonable to require the Ohio driver to defend in Arizona. Then you must file the suit in the defendant’s county, which would involve extensive travel.
How an Attorney Can Help
If you are involved in an accident with an out of state driver, it is crucial that you take appropriate action promptly to protect your rights. To maximize your chances of success when filing a lawsuit, it is necessary to obtain the counsel of an experienced attorney. An attorney with expertise in litigating automobile accident suits will be able to provide comprehensive information and guidance regarding your rights and options. An attorney will also serve as a valuable resource to compile evidence to support your claims and help you negotiate a settlement.
If you have been involved in an accident with an out of state driver, call the Law Offices of Sonja Duckstein today at 602-212-0202 for immediate guidance and assistance with your case.