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Is Suing Out of State Defendants Mystifying?

bridge.jpgStarting a lawsuit can be a difficult and intimidating process the first-time (hopefully, it will be your only time). If the person or company you're suing is in another state, the experience can become mystifying.

The first thing to be considered is whether a New Jersey court has jurisdiction-the ability to make a binding decision - over the opposing party. This decision can become a minefield of rules and regulations, but it boils down to whether who or what is being sued had any sort of contact with the state. If the case is about an accident, did it happen in this state, or between New Jersey residents?

If it involves a defective product, did the manufacturer have headquarters in New Jersey, or at the very least have enough "minimum contacts" with the state to allowed it to be sued in a New Jersey court (for example, if the company had a branch office in state, or if the company targeted state residents with phone calls or ads)? Even if the defendant is only in the state for a short period of time, if he or it is served while in-state, the state court could have jurisdiction. On the other hand, if a lawsuit can't be brought in your home state, you may have to travel to the other side's to file it. If that's the case, be sure to take into account the potential additional costs for travel, etc. and any difference in state laws that could affect the outcome of the case.

When you decide where to sue, make sure to consider all options and choose the court that best reflects where justice can best be served. Many courts discourage "forum-shopping," which happens when the person suing tries to get their cases heard in "friendly" courts, even if the state where that court is located has little to do with the type of case or the parties involved. But once jurisdiction is established, the process of suing a defendant is largely the same as suing in-state defendants.

The person or company suing needs to file the lawsuit with the court and serve the papers on the defendant (make sure to check with the court rules to see how service must be done). You'll need to decide whether or not to hire an attorney. If the amount being claimed is hundreds or a few thousand dollars, you may want to represent yourself and you should contact the court staff with questions about the process, as a "technicality" could determine whether or not the case is successful. If you're a corporation, you have no choice - the rules in New Jersey say you must be represented by a lawyer, no matter how small the claim. Another unfairness in the system. Loree Varella is a graduate of Rutgers School of Law, Newark and collaborated with me on this blog. She was Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.


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