Circuit? General Sessions? Federal? Which Court is MY Case Going to Be In?

Your lawyer calls. The insurance company isn’t doing the right thing. They’re trying to get out of your case for pennies on the dollar, but your lawyer knows better. He tells you “we’re going to court.” But which court is he talking about?

In Tennessee, injury cases usually end up one of three places:

Circuit Court - General Sessions Court - Federal Court

When will my case go to circuit court?

This is where we file the vast majority of our injury cases. Circuit court is a state court of general jurisdiction over civil disputes. Almost any kind of case can be filed in circuit court including car wrecks, medical malpractice, contract disputes, divorces and will contests. Cases filed in circuit court are subject to the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and generally take at least 12 to 18 months from the time they are filed to the time of trial.  Each county in Tennessee has its own circuit court which is located in the city that serves as the county seat. The list of circuit court judges in Tennessee can be found here.

When will my case go to general sessions court?

General sessions court is also known as “small claims court.”  General sessions courts handles smaller cases. The maximum amount recoverable in general sessions cases is typically $25,000. Cases filed in general sessions court move very quickly and have little to know pre-trial discovery or procedure. For that reason, many straightforward collections actions end up in general sessions court. General sessions cases are decided only by a judge, not a jury, and the general sessions judge’s ruling is automatically appealable to circuit court with no deference given to the general sessions court’s ruling. Because of certain procedural limitations, we do not file cases in general sessions court.

When will my case go to federal court?

Injury cases end up in federal court in special circumstances. Typically, our cases will end up in federal court when a defendant is a non-Tennessee resident and the value of the case exceeds $75,000.  For example, we have several current cases pending against Wal-Mart in federal court (Wal-Mart is not considered a Tennessee resident because it’s headquarters is not located in Tennessee). You also frequently see cases against trucking companies end up in federal court because they are often located out of state. Federal court cases are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Like circuit court cases, federal court cases typically take at least a year from filing to trial. Something to be aware of is that some injury lawyers refuse to practice in federal court because they are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the rules governing cases in federal court.

Before your lawyer files suit, make sure he knows the lay of the land and is familiar with all the rules that are going to govern your case in the court he chooses.