Out of State Accidents: Common Jurisdiction Issues Explained

Doug Mann

You were on vacation, visiting a relative, or on a business trip. Then you got in a car crash. You probably already know that when another driver causes an accident, you’re entitled to compensation for your injuries and property damage. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to go to court to get what you’re owed. When you’re injured out-of-state, where can you sue?

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Table of Contents
  1. Jurisdiction
  2. Suing a Person in Another State
  3. Suing a Person in Ohio
  4. Suing a Business
  5. Why does it matter?
  6. How Can I Decide Where to Sue?


At its root, this is a question about jurisdiction. “Jurisdiction” is a legal term referring to a court’s authority to hear a case. Jurisdiction may be related to the parties in the case or to the cause of the case. For example, cases arising from state law issues that happen entirely within the boundary of a single state can only be heard in that state’s courts. So, an Ohio driver who hits another Ohio driver within the state will face a suit in Ohio state court. Some cases, such as those involving multiple states as parties or those involving foreign citizens, can only be heard in federal courts. Some local issues may only be heard in the county or municipal court.

When the issue that’s the cause of the lawsuit relates only to a single state, it’s easy to figure out where to file a suit — you file in that state. When the issue involves parties from different states, things get a little more complicated.

Suing a Person in Another State

When you file a lawsuit, you’re a “plaintiff.” The other party is the “defendant.” The plaintiff has the burden of proving in court that the defendant did something wrong. The defendant, in the famous phrase, is “innocent until proven guilty.” That means the defendant has certain rights regarding where she can be sued.

In general, you can always bring suit in the state in which the defendant lives. If you’re an Ohio citizen but you’re injured by an Illinois driver while you’re in Illinois, you can sue in Illinois. The Illinois court has “personal jurisdiction” over all of the citizens of that state. Likewise, an Illinois driver injured by an Ohio driver while in Ohio can sue in Ohio state court.

You may be able to file a suit in another state by mail, but you’ll probably have to appear at the court in person for hearings related to the case. If you file suit in another state, you’re going to have to travel to that state to deal with it.

Suing a Person in Ohio

In some cases, you may be able to sue in Ohio so that you don’t have to travel in order to go through with the suit. Unfortunately, the fact that you live in Ohio isn’t enough to allow you to sue in Ohio.

Special jurisdiction rules apply to motor vehicle accidents. If an out-of-state driver causes an accident in Ohio, you can always sue in small claims court in Ohio, regardless of where that driver lives. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help you if you’re injured by a driver while you’re in another state.

You may be able to sue a person from another state in Ohio based on the “minimum contacts” theory. The minimum contacts theory says that a state court has jurisdiction over a defendant who has a certain amount of contact with the state. For example, if the defendant has a home in Ohio or works in Ohio, then an Ohio court may have jurisdiction over the case. That’s because the defendant has made herself subject to Ohio law by living or working there. You can then sue in an Ohio court.

Suing a Business

What if you were injured by a truck driver, delivery man, or other professional and you want to sue the business responsible? As with suing a person, you can always sue in the defendant’s home state. In the case of a business, that usually means the state in which that business has its headquarters. As with a claim against an individual, that means you’re going to have to travel to that state for the hearings related to the case.

You may also be able to sue a business under the “minimum contacts” theory. The court will look at the business’s presence in Ohio to decide if the business has enough contact with Ohio to fall under Ohio state jurisdiction. If the business’s headquarters are in Ohio, you can probably sue in Ohio. You may also be able to sue the business if it has a branch or branches in Ohio. In some cases, you may even be able to sue a business that advertises in Ohio, although that’s a harder case to make.

Why does it matter?

A choice of jurisdiction will affect whether you have to travel for hearings related to your case. It can also affect the outcome. If you sue in another state, you’re suing under that state’s laws. Each state has its own unique laws, meaning that the same case may have a very different outcome under Tennessee law compared with Ohio law.

Each state also has its own laws regarding the statute of limitations, or the amount of time you have to sue after the original incident. For example, the statute of limitations for personal injury in Ohio is 2 years. It’s also 2 years in Indiana. In other words, you have 2 years from the day you were injured or the day the injury became apparent (some injuries take a while to develop) to sue. After that, you lose the right to sue.

How Can I Decide Where to Sue?

Jurisdiction issues are complicated. The rules depend on who the parties are, where they’re from, where the claim arises, the nature of the case, and other factors. Many cases have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The good news is if your case is dismissed because it’s in the wrong jurisdiction, you can still sue in the correct jurisdiction.

If you were injured out of state, you should reach out to one of our experienced personal injury attorneys for a free consultation today. We can help you figure out where you can and should sue and how best to go about filing your case. Act quickly — every state has a statute of limitations that only gives you a certain amount of time to file a claim.

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