Tens of millions of visitors come to Las Vegas each year, many of whom come from other states. Accidents involving out-of-town visitors raise questions about how someone who lives in Las Vegas might file a lawsuit against someone in another state. Before a court can hear a case against someone it must have jurisdiction over that person. By default, each state’s courts have personal jurisdiction over the residents of their states. But establishing personal jurisdiction over someone who does not reside in the state requires a more nuanced analysis.
The service of process requirement
Nevada’s courts follow federal due process rules for establishing personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. NRS 14.065. The first thing to understand about personal jurisdiction is that it requires delivery of service of process on the defendant. Service of process simply means that the defendant in the lawsuit is provided with a summons and a copy of the plaintiff’s complaint so the defendant will have an opportunity to respond.
Personal service of process requires giving the summons and complaint to the defendant personally, leaving them at the defendant’s home “with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein,” or by giving them to the defendant’s authorized agent (typically, a lawyer). Nev. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(6). Complying with this requirement can be harder than it sounds, because many defendants avoid being served with process or are hard to track down. Nevada law provides that a defendant who hides behind a locked gate can be served by mail with court approval, but generally speaking service can’t be completed by mail. NRS 14.090. Serving process on an out-of-state defendant often requires hiring a professional process server located where the defendant resides.
Car crashes and personal jurisdiction
Nevada law provides an exception for people involved in car crashes. Nevada law deems anyone who drives in the state to have appointed the Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles as his or her attorney for purposes of serving process. In these cases the plaintiff need only submit a copy of the summons and complaint, along with a $5 fee, to the DMV, with a copy sent by mail to the defendant’s address as provided at the time of the accident. NRS 14.070.
Establishing specific jurisdiction over an individual
Serving process on a defendant isn’t enough to establish a court’s personal jurisdiction. Three things must be true for a Nevada court to exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state individual:
- The out-of-state defendant must have purposefully directed his or her activities or consummated some transaction with a Nevada resident, or otherwise “purposefully avail himself of the privilege of conducting activities” in Nevada, “thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.”
- The plaintiff’s claim must arise from the defendant’s activities that are related to Nevada.
- Exercising jurisdiction must “comport with fair play and substantial justice.”
Boschetto v. Hansing, 539 F.3d 1011, 1016 (9th Cir. 2008).
The plaintiff is responsible for showing the first two prongs are true, while the defendant can argue that the fairness standard of the third prong makes exercise of personal jurisdiction inappropriate.
Most cases where personal jurisdiction is tricky involve defendants who have never physically stepped foot in the jurisdiction. For personal injury cases where the defendant who is allegedly liable for hurting the plaintiff, it can be enough that the defendant caused the injury while in Nevada. Of course, if the injury took place outside of Nevada, establishing personal jurisdiction may be more difficult, because the defendant has not “directed activities” at Nevada. In those cases, filing a lawsuit in the jurisdiction where the defendant lives, or where the accident took place, may be necessary.
Let GGRM help you sort through jurisdiction questions
For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has helped clients in the Las Vegas area recover for personal injuries. If you have been injured by an out-of-state individual, our attorneys can help you sort through your options. Call us today for a free consultation at 702-388-4476, or reach us through our contact page.