What are Conflicts of Law in a Personal Injury Lawsuits?

“Conflicts of Law” refers to a claim in which the laws of more than one state, or both state and federals laws, may apply in a potential lawsuit.  The issue then becomes that of choosing which body of laws may be legally applied, and whether applying those laws will serve to benefit the plaintiff.  A true conflict of laws is where the outcome of a lawsuit depends on which laws are applied. 

The area of conflict of laws is a highly technical and complex one.  The average citizen usually does not know how the various state and federal laws interact.  Therefore the determination of which personal injury laws to apply is usually done by a lawyer.  However, if you will be filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is helpful even just to know whether your case may involve a conflict of laws.

In what situations do Conflicts of Law usually occur?

In a personal injury claim, a conflict of law may occur in the following situations:

  • Interstate transactions: injuries resulting from a multi-state interaction may result in a conflict of laws.  For example, the plaintiff may have been injured during travels, or they may have been injured by a product that passed through several states
  • Federal employees: Employees of the U.S. government are sometimes held to different standards than normal citizens.  For example, the Federal Tort Claims Act holds the U.S. government liable for certain torts committed by its employees
  • International dealings: if the injury was caused by a foreign person or entity, there may be an overlap between state and federal laws

Personal injury situations often involve interstate transactions.  For example, in a products liability claim, the product that caused the injury may have been assembled in several different states, and may thus be subject to several different safety standards.

Be sure to take note if your personal injury claims involves any of the situations described above.  You should inform your attorney if you suspect that several different laws govern your type of injury.

Which Laws will a Court Apply?

If a court is faced with a legal dispute involving a conflict of laws, it generally has two choices to consider:

  • Law of the Forum:  Courts may apply the laws of the forum (the state where the claim is filed).  This is usually done when the dispute involves procedural matters, such as a filing deadline
  • Law of the Site of Transaction:  A court may also apply the laws of the jurisdiction where the transaction or injury occurred.  This is usually done when the dispute is over a substantive matter, such as whether the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries.

Thus, not only does it matter which laws are applied, but it also matters in which state the suit is filed.  There is also a vast difference between filing in a state court as opposed to a federal court (it is not always possible to file in federal court).  Again, these are decisions that require the expertise of a lawyer.  However it is always best if a personal injury victim is informed of the possible outcomes of filing in particular court.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Personal Injury Lawsuit involving a Conflict of Laws?

If you are involved in a personal injury case, you should at least take notice of whether your case may involve a conflict of laws.  Of course, you cannot be expected to understand which laws may apply in your situation.  For this reason, it is best if you contact a personal injury lawyer for advice.  Your attorney can explain how applying a certain law or filing in a specific court will provide you with the greatest chance of success.