You’ve been a Washington resident for all of your life, and you were in Montana when another Washington resident rear-ended you at 45 miles per hour while you were stopped at a red light. You suffered extensive and serious injuries, and your car was totaled as a result of the impact. You want to file a lawsuit, but you question whether there’s a jurisdictional issue since the crash happened in Montana.
A claimant in Washington can’t file a lawsuit against another resident of Washington in the Montana courts unless there’s some type of reasonable connection between the parties and Montana. Without that connection, Montana has no jurisdiction. You want to file your case in the proper state. For purposes of entering a valid and binding judgment, the court that you file your case in must have personal jurisdiction over the person who rear-ended you. By virtue of jurisdiction, a court can enforce a judgment that it enters. The fact that two Washington residents were involved in a motor vehicle collision in Montana gives Montana jurisdiction to hear a lawsuit if you’re so disposed as to file there.
Montana’s nonresident motorist statute
Like every other state, Montana has a nonresident motorist statute giving it jurisdiction to hear cases involving accidents that were caused in Montana by residents of other states. Because the person who caused the accident is entitled to proper notice of the pendency of an action against him or her, Montana’s nonresident motorist statute details exactly how the nonresident should be served with a summons and complaint. With proper service, any judgment in a personal injury case would be a valid and binding Montana judgment.
The fact that the crash occurred in Montana doesn’t necessarily give Montana sole and exclusive jurisdiction. Two Washington residents were involved in the occurrence. Every state has jurisdiction over its residents. Since the accident involved two people who live in Washington, the case can be heard in Washington too.
By all means, you want to be sure about jurisdiction. The lack of jurisdiction can be raised at any time.
Statute of limitations
Both Washington and Montana have three year limitations statutes on personal injury actions.
Montana: The general statute of limitations for personal injury, including wrongful death, in the state of Montana is three years. – M.C.A. §27-2-204(2)
Washington: In the State of Washington, there is a three year statute of limitations for any injury to person or property claims. – Spokane Injury Lawyer Crary
A defendant might raise the jurisdictional argument a year after the statute of limitations expires. If a judge vacates the judgment against the defendant on jurisdictional grounds, that can leave you with an expired statute of limitations and no available legal remedy.