Personal Injury On Federal Land — Do I Sue In Federal Or State Court?

Look at a map of northern Alabama. You cannot miss it. A huge area of federal land next to Huntsville and Madison. It’s Redstone Arsenal.

It’s not just the huge amount of land. Redstone Arsenal plays a huge role in our community and economy. A 2010 study revealed Redstone accounted for 6% of Alabama’s GDP. The area continues to grow! Because of the significant traffic and movement in and around Redstone each day, it’s not surprising that serious personal injuries occur on this facility just like they do elsewhere. What happens when someone suffers a car accident on Redstone Arsenal? What happens when someone suffers a personal injury on Redstone Arsenal of any type?

Two years ago, I tried a case in Madison County where a construction worker fell while working at a building project on Redstone. My client suffered tremendous and disabling injuries in the fall. The case was not against the federal government. We claimed the general contractor (a private construction company) created an unsafe and dangerous worksite. We were able to help our client recover both compensatory damages and workers compensation benefits for his injures.

Currently, I’m representing an individual who suffered severe injuries in a car crash on Redstone’s property. Again, this claim is not against the federal government. Another driver ran a stop sign, negligently causing the collision.

I’m not talking about cases on Federal property where you sue the U.S. government. I’m talking about damage cases where another private individual or company negligently injured you on Federal property. I’m talking about cases against a private party. What happens when you are injured on Federal property by someone else’s negligence?

In my prior construction case, we filed the case in state court. Ultimately, we tried the case in state court. We settled the car accident case I mentioned. But, if not settled, we would have filed in state court.

Yesterday, the Huntsville Times published an article about a 2010 explosion at Redstone Arsenal. Two men died in the explosion. Their families filed suits in Madison County against private companies involved in the activities surrounding the explosion. Several defendants in those claims tried to remove the lawsuits from an Alabama court to a Federal court. They argued Redstone is Federal property giving the Federal courts exclusive jurisdiction. A Federal judge disagreed. The judge recently ruled the cases can proceed in state court. In her ruling, the Federal judge noted that Federal courts and state courts share jurisdiction of claims for personal injuries occurring on Federal lands. Thus, these claims can move forward in state court.

Although not mentioned in the Huntsville Time article, the actual order from the federal judge indicates a defendant in the explosion case may have not complied with the procedures necessary for removing cases from state courts to Federal courts. Based on shared jurisdiction, the defendants may have been able to remove the cases from state to Federal court if they had complied with all the technical requirements of Federal law. That’s a separate issue. For now, it’s important to remember — A court in Alabama can hear and decide personal injury claims that occur on Federal property.


At the Blackwell Law Firm, we help injured people across Alabama. We have tried cases to verdict in both Alabama and Federal courts. Our philosophy is simple. It is based on hard work and preparation. Our one goal is to recover ever dollar possible for our injured clients. If you have questions about a personal injury issue, let us know. Consultations are always free and confidential.