Changing Venue in a Personal Injury Case

800px-Texas_County,_Oklahoma_courthouse_from_E_1A woman who was allegedly struck by a player on the University of Oklahoma’s football team recently resisted a motion by the defendant’s legal team to change the venue of the proceeding from federal court in California to Oklahoma. In arguing against the transfer, the plaintiff claimed that she could not be assured of a fair trial in Oklahoma since Oklahomans are (at least according to the plaintiff) fiercely loyal to the Sooner football program. The defendant and his attorneys countered with several reasons why the case should be moved to Oklahoma City federal court, including:

  • There is no evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims of juror bias;
  • Oklahoma law would apply and a court sitting in Oklahoma would be more familiar with this body of law;
  • The case would be heard quicker in Oklahoma as the case load is lighter; and
  • A number of witnesses the defendant intends to call to testify as part of his case-in-chief would be located in Oklahoma.

The court has not yet ruled on the motion.

Reasons for Changing Venue

Venue is a legal term describing the geographic location of the court that is the most convenient for hearing the dispute. In most every personal injury case or other civil dispute, the plaintiff initially determines the venue of the case by filing the case in one courthouse or another. In some situations, there may be several cases which could be considered to be “convenient” forums in which to litigate the case. In this situation, the plaintiff initially decides where the case should be heard. However, in certain cases the defendant may have the venue of the case changed to a different court.

When a change of venue is sought by the defendant, it is most often because the jurisdiction to which the defendant would transfer the case is determined to be more favorable to the defendant’s claims (or, at the very least, not as favorable to the plaintiff’s positions). However, one cannot change venue simply because he or she believes he or she has a better opportunity for succeeding in the new forum. Generally, motions to change venue are usually granted where:

  • One party produces convincing evidence suggesting that he or she cannot obtain a fair trial in which the case is presently filed. In most cases, this must be more than a “hunch” or general belief that potential jurors in the jurisdiction would view the party unfavorably, but instead must be supported by evidence (such as negative press coverage or polling data);
  • The other proposed venue is more convenient because many of the potential witnesses and/or evidence are located in the proposed venue and/or resolution of the dispute requires familiarity with the laws of the proposed venue.

In many cases, choosing the most appropriate venue to hear a personal injury case can be just as important as identifying and deposing witnesses and ensuring that one’s claims are supported by the facts and law.

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(image courtesy of Ammodramus)