I was surprised at a recent social gathering of non-attorneys, just how many people were confused about the structure of our Court system. Confusion about the difference between criminal cases and civil cases. My goal in this post is to explain how the State courts work for personal injury cases.
There are a variety of types of cases that get filed at the Courthouse. These can include:
- landlord/tenant disputes
- contract disputes
- personal injury cases
- probate cases
- criminal cases
- juvenile cases
- dependency cases
- business disputes
- foreclosure actions
- And more
Certain judges hear certain types of cases. I will only be addressing personal injury cases and cases involving damages to one’s property.
Different Levels of State Courts
First, there are three levels of the State Courthouse for purposes of filing a lawsuit, based on value of the case the Plaintiff is seeking. The Plaintiff is the one that files the lawsuit. The Defendant is the one you are suing and they must respond to the lawsuit. The three levels are:
- Small Claims Court
- County Court
- Circuit Court
The court that your case will reside in is determined by the amount of damages that you are seeking.
Small Claims Court
The lowest level of cases are called ‘Small Claims Court’, also known as ‘Summary Claims’. The Plaintiff in these cases are stating that the total value of the damages they are seeking are less than $5000.00.
In these court proceedings, one can generally find many people handling the suits themselves. This is also known as “pro se”, which means, “for ones own behalf”.
At Harris Guidi Rosner we do handle cases on behalf of our clients in Small Claims. Generally these cases relate to property damage. This typically occurs when an insurance company is unwilling to make sufficient compensation for property claims. For example, damages to their automobile or for their diminished value caused by the accident. If the personal injury element has a resolution, we will seek such recoveries in this Court.
Second, if the damages being sought are in excess of $5000.00, but less than $15,000.00, then the lawsuit goes to County Court. These are still, generally for our office, cases involving property damages and diminished value claims.
Lastly, there is Circuit Court. The economic criteria for Circuit Court is simply that the Plaintiff is seeking an amount in excess of $15,000.00.
In personal injury cases, the Plaintiff is not required, and generally will not, specify the amount they are seeking. They simply state to the Court that they are seeking damages in excess of that threshold.
Circuit Court is where 98% of all personal injury cases end up. This is because there is no limit to the amount of an award to the Plaintiff based on the evidence. There are elements of a personal injury case that the jury has to put a value on. Pain and suffering caused to you by the at-fault party is one area where the jury must determine damages.
Jury Trial or Bench Trial
In all the levels of the Court, a Plaintiff may request a jury trial. Often times, in Small Claims and in County Court, the parties may agree to have their dispute heard simply by the judge, known as a “Bench Trial”.
Generally, from the perspective of the Plaintiff, a Bench Trial may be advantageous if:
- the economics of the damages are clear, and
- there is no emotional or non-economic damages being sought.
Bench Trials can usually be set on the calendar much sooner than a jury trial. bench trials typically last a couple of hours, rather than a couple of days with a Jury Trial.
The amount the Plaintiff must pay to the Clerk at the Courthouse increases with each of the levels. For Small Claims Court, there are minimal filing fees. The fees can increase based on the value of the award you seek to recover.
These levels increase through the County Court. However, only one filing fee level exist at the Circuit Court level for purposes of personal injury cases.
Our Courts Work for Personal Injury Cases
Our Court System is one of the best on the Planet and we all should appreciate all the hard work that many who work at the Courthouse. I am not just talking about attorneys and judges, we are talking about everyone. From maintenance staff all the way to the Clerks of the Court and administration deserve appreciation.
Our experienced Jacksonville personal injury lawyers will be happy to talk to you about your case. There is no fee for consultations and you do not owe if there is no award granted. Give us a call at 904-777-7777 to schedule an appointment.
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