If you’ve been injured by someone else’s negligence in North Carolina, one of the questions you may have is which court your case will be filed in. In many cases, the courthouse closest to your own house may not be the correct answer. Sure, we’d love to make things as convenient as possible for our clients, but in North Carolina, the choice of court is governed by the amount of money you’re suing for. This map will show you which courthouse is controlling in your county.
North Carolina courts hear over 3.2 million cases a year. With that many cases, the state of North Carolina has divided its trial court system into three branches: Superior, District, and Small Claims. After the trial level, North Carolina has a Court of Appeals and Supreme Court that can overturn jury decisions if a mistake of law has been made.
North Carolina Superior Courts
The North Carolina Superior Court is empowered to hear all civil cases involving more than $10,000 in damages. This includes medical malpractice actions, auto accidents, motorcycle crashes, slip and fall cases, and just about any other type of tort you can think of.
North Carolina District Court
The North Carolina District Courts can hear any civil case involving less than $10,000 in claimed damages. The District Courts are located in the county seat of each county and can also be found in certain cities and towns, as specially authorized by the General Assembly.
North Carolina Small Claims Court
The North Carolina Small Claims Court is a subdivision of the District Court system. Small Claims Courts can hear any cases where the claimed amount of damages is under $5,000. Typically these are very minor injury cases. In fact, the Small Claims court does not even utilize a jury system. A magistrate judge presides over the hearing and there are typically no lawyers.
If you file a case in small claims court and lose, you may appeal to the District Courts to have a trial by jury.
North Carolina Court of Appeals
Often, following a trial, one side will appeal the decision. Cases that are appealed are submitted to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina. Fifteen judges currently sit on this court, each rotating through so that every case is heard by a panel of three judges. The Court of Appeals may only render opinions on issues of law. This means that the Court of Appeals may not overturn a jury verdict simply because they disagree with the way that the jury decided the case. The Court of Appeals must find some flaw in the instructions given to the jury, the evidentiary rulings made at trial, or some other problem of law before they may overturn a jury’s verdict.
North Carolina Supreme Court
The North Carolina Supreme Court has the final say in all state cases. The Supreme Courthouse is located in Raleigh. There are six associate justices and a chief justice that decides every case. However, not every case that goes to trial will appear before the North Carolina Supreme Court. There are two ways to get your case heard in the North Carolina Supreme Court. The first way is if the court grants the appeal. The Supreme Court has discretion to hear any case from the Court of Appeals that they wish. The second is that the Court of Appeals opinion had a “dissenting” judge. Any time the vote was 2-1 in the Court of Appeals, the appeal must be heard and decided by the Supreme Court.