There are two court systems in the United States: state and federal. Each system has specific responsibilities that may be either exclusive, meaning that only that particular court can hear a case, or concurrent, meaning both courts have the power to hear the case. Which court hears the case depends on the plaintiff’s choice, provided both courts have jurisdiction to hear the case. For a criminal case, this depends on the type of crime and where the criminal action occurred. For example, a bank robbery that took place in Alabama will usually be tried by a federal court in that state. In a civil case, the type of court used depends on where the incident occurred and the type of lawsuit.
Figure 2.6 Misdemeanor Case Process
Types of Courts
The federal court system has jurisdiction , or power to hear a case, when one of the following conditions is present:
· The dispute relates to a federal law or the U.S. Constitution.
· The U.S. government is one of the parties involved in the dispute.
· Different states’ citizens are involved in the dispute and the case involves over $75,000.
· Citizens of another country are involved in a dispute with a U.S. citizen and the case involves over $75,000.
· The actual dispute occurred in international waters.
If the case does not involve one of these situations, it must be tried in state court. However, even if one of these situations exists, the case may still be heard in state court unless Congress has prohibited state courts from hearing the case, such as with a kidnapping that takes place across state lines. Cases involving a federal crime, bankruptcy law, and patent law must be heard in federal court. Cases involving divorce, child custody, and probate must be heard in state court.
The court system is divided into three levels. The levels for the federal court system are district (or municipal), court of appeals (or circuit courts), and the U.S. Supreme Court. A case is tried at the lowest level court first. If that court’s decision is appealed, or challenged, then the next higher court may examine the decision.
The state courts, from lower to higher, are divided into district or municipal trial courts, state court of appeals, and the state’s highest court for final appeals. The lower state courts hear cases such as small claims and traffic violations.
Physicians may have to take a patient who has a delinquent account to small claims court. Physicians may authorize their office manager, bookkeeper, or other office assistant to appear in court for the hearing. The clerk of small claims court can provide information on the requirements and procedures relating to this type of lawsuit.
Probate court, or estate court , handles cases involving estates of the deceased. A physician may have to contact the county court recorder for information about filing a claim for payment from the estate of a deceased patient.
It is always advisable to seek payment for all medical services that have been provided to dying or deceased patients. Failure to seek payment may be thought of as an indication of guilt or negligence over a patient’s treatment or death.