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City Slickers and Airplane Litigation

Fight or Flight: Theobald v. Piper Aircraft, Inc.

2017 Case Notes

March 20, 2017

Sometimes venue challenges are successful.  Sometimes the convenience of the lawyers is not the standard for judging the proper venue for a lawsuit.  In Theobald v. Piper Aircraft, Inc., 208 So.3d 287 (Fl. 2016), Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court’s order transferring the venue of an aviation death case from Miami to the defendants’ county of residence.  

The subject accident involved a Piper Seneca II which crashed near Johnstown, New York, after a flight originating in Bedford, Massachusetts.  None of the decedents or the plaintiffs resided in Miami-Dade.  The aircraft was designed and manufactured in Indian River County, Florida, but was not serviced and did not land in Miami-Dade.  The remaining defendants had no connection with the state of Florida. The plaintiffs filed the wrongful death lawsuit in Miami–Dade County.  Defendant Piper Aircraft, Inc. moved to transfer venue from Miami–Dade to Indian River County, Florida, where Piper’s headquarters are located. 

Piper Inc. submitted evidence demonstrating that, in addition to manufacture of the aircraft in Indian River county, relevant witnesses and documents were also located in Indian River County.  By contrast, no witness, document or company was located in Miami-Dade.  In arguing against the change of venue, the plaintiffs argued “Miami–Dade is a metropolitan city with a large airport and various accommodations that would make it a more convenient forum for the traveling witnesses and parties.”  Id. at 290.  The Court soundly rejected this argument, “because Miami–Dade County has absolutely no connection to the subject lawsuit….”  Id.

While the plaintiffs probably did not know Miami-Dade’s reputation as a plaintiff-friendly “Judicial Hellhole,” according The American Tort Reform Foundation, it appears that Florida’s appellate division is working hard to change that.  In Theobald, the appellate court cited three other decisions (two of which involved motions to transfer from Miami-Dade) supporting the rule that venue should be decided on the lawsuit’s connections to the venue, not whether the venue is “a large metropolitan area with more adequate facilities”.  Id.

Theobald reminds lawyers that the next time you are faced with an aviation claim in the wrong venue, focus the court’s attention on the merits of the claim, and not on the convenience of the lawyers and parties.  

Bruce Wallace practices with Nexsen Pruet’s business and consumer litigation group in Charleston. He represents a variety of banking and financial institutions in real estate litigation, commercial litigation, and mortgage foreclosures. He also represents insurers and corporate clients in bad faith and coverage issues, professional liability, business litigation (including disputes involving partnerships, limited liability companies, and closely held companies), and probate litigation matters (including trusts and estates).