Hopefully, most Florida residents will never have to worry about what court case will be heard where in the state’s judicial system. But at the same time, having a basic understanding of the legal system and legal options for personal injury cases can help alleviate any apprehension if the opposite situation arises.
The court system in our state is made up of the Supreme Court, five district courts of appeal, 20 circuit courts and 67 county courts. Each of them is distinct in its role.
Small claims up to and including $5,000 are heard in county courts. Misdemeanors, traffic and civil actions may be filed here, up to a value of $15,000. Most non-jury trials take place in county courts, before one judge. These so-called people’s courts are referred to as such because they handle large volumes of citizen disputes with fairly low dollar values.
It is a circuit court that has jurisdiction over personal injury cases and other civil complaints seeking an award in excess of $15,000. Other matters in this jurisdiction include felony criminal charges, mental health and competency hearings, and juvenile and family law cases. Cases appealed from county court are heard in circuit court. It is here that the majority of jury trials take place. One judge, who has been elected by voters of the circuit area, presides. Panama City, for example, is located in Florida’s Fourteenth Circuit.
District courts of appeal will hear cases that aren’t directly appealable to the Supreme Court, as well as final actions of state agencies. As a general rule, these three-judge panel decisions represent the final appellate review of litigated cases.
Florida’s highest appellate court is the Supreme Court, which has existed since 1845. It is comprised of seven justices, five of whom must participate in every case. Four must agree for a decision to be rendered. There are some cases the Supreme Court must hear by state constitutional dictate. They include final death sentence orders, state statute or constitution validation, bond validations and utility rates and services orders. The justices have discretion as to whether or not to review cases submitted under petition by a party to a lower court ruling.
Source: Florida Courts, “Court System Organization & Structure” accessed Feb. 12, 2015