We all have a vague idea that the laws are different on Indian reservations like the one in North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but what does it really mean after an car, truck, or motorcycle accident? Basically it affects the court in which the matter will be heard: Tribal Court, State Court or Federal Court.
Basically, if the defendant is a member of the local tribe, a car accident case will generally be heard in the tribal court; if the defendant is a non-member of the tribe, a car accident case will generally be heard in state (or federal) court, even if the accident occurred on roads within the Indian reservation.
The basic reason for this is that, as long as the road was on a right-of-way given by the reservation to the state or federal government, the tribe’s claim of jurisdiction over non-members is fairly weak. The accident occurred on a road that the tribe barely regulates and generally non-members tort defendants will generally have little meaningful interaction with the tribe. The non-member came on the reservation to visit, isn’t a member of the tribe, and merely got into an accident on (usually) a state maintained road. The basis for giving the tribe jurisdiction over a non-member accident defendant is seemingly weak.
However, members obviously should be under jurisdiction of the tribe, and perhaps are owed the protection that a tribal venue might give. Thus, when members are the defendants, the tribal court will likely have jurisdiction.
These are just the basic rules though. State courts may have concurrent jurisdiction in these types of car, truck, and motorcycle accident cases, and federal courts will have jurisdiction over whether or not the tribal court has jurisdiction. Federal courts may even have diversity jurisdiction in some cases as well.
Interestingly, it may not be so bad for the non-member defendant to try their car, truck, or motorcycle accident case in Tribal Court rather than North Carolina court: The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians recognizes comparative negligence rather than North Carolina’s contributory negligence.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed anywhere in the Carolinas, call our accident attorneys at 877-374-5999. You’ll speak to an attorney who will help you evaluate your case, and we’ll fight to get you your best possible recovery.by