What is the difference between State Courts and Federal Courts?

State Courts, Federal Courts, and your Pennsylvania Insurance Claim

Federal CourtEveryone knows that we have a federal court system and state court system, but when asked to explain the differences, few people are able to do so. The purpose of this blog is to provide a short, basic summary of the difference between the two court systems and how it can affect your personal injury claim.

The federal courts are established by Article III of our Constitution. Federal judges are appointed by the President of the United States and are confirmed by the Senate for life. The federal courts decide cases that arise under specific federal laws which establish jurisdiction (the power to hear the case), in the federal courts. Examples of federal question jurisdiction are securities fraud, income taxation, bank robbery, and laws regarding the environment and telecommunications. In general, matters which affect “interstate commerce” can be regulated by Congress through law and the question of what is “interstate commerce” has been very generously decided in favor of the federal government.

Finally, federal courts are empowered to hear cases under what’s called “diversity jurisdiction.” This requires that the parties be citizens of different states and the case or controversy have a good-faith value of more than $75,000.00. While federal courts are usually regarded as more important by ordinary citizens, this is not the case. It is simply that the federal courts have distinct areas over which they have jurisdiction.

State courts hear cases which arise under the state or local laws of the state. The laws which impact us in most of the aspects of daily life usually arise under state law. For instance, laws regulating controlled substances, the operation of your vehicle (while intoxicated or not), real estate, decedent’s estates and our complete crimes code all arise under the state law. This also includes auto accidents, workers’ compensation, and various defective products cases. Under Pennsylvania law, these cases are all brought in the particular county in which the case or controversy arose.

Appeals are heard by either the Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court and further appeals can be heard by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania judges are elected positions with a ten-year term, at the expiration of which the judge must stand for a “retention vote” to serve another term.

Federal and State Courts oftentimes have concurrent jurisdiction. In other words, a case can be heard by either of them. This frequently happens with insurance disputes.

While the regulation of insurance is a matter of state law, insurance carriers can and frequently will remove the case to federal court under diversity jurisdiction. There are many strategic reasons why this strategy is employed. For instance, in state court, Pennsylvania courts have decided there is no right to a jury trial in an insurance bad faith case, However, the federal courts in Pennsylvania have held that there is a right to jury trial in such cases.

This blog is intended to provide a basic summary on this topic. For more information and the application to a particular situation, you should obviously consult an attorney.

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