As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident attorney, I very frequently am called upon to handle semi truck crash cases where the correct venue for the lawsuit is in doubt. A crash that takes place here in Missouri might easily involve residents of southern Illinois, a trucker from Arkansas and a trucking company incorporated in Delaware with headquarters in Texas. All of these states are potential venues for a lawsuit, and parties will sometimes push for one or another to gain a perceived or actual advantage. A dispute over venue and choice of law brought Edwards et al. v. Erie Coach Lines et al to the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court). Ultimately, the court decided that New York was the correct venue to hear the case, but its courts should respect Ontario provincial law in cases between the Ontario plaintiffs and the bus defendants, also from Ontario.
The case arose out of a serious accident in which a bus carrying a women’s hockey team from Ontario crashed into the back of a parked tractor-trailer in New York. The crash killed the trucker and four passengers from the bus; several other passengers were seriously hurt. The survivors of the crash and their families brought six New York lawsuits against the trucking company, the trucker’s estate, the company that hired the trailer, the bus driver’s employer and the company that leased the bus. This choice was in part because Ontario has a cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases caused by negligence, and New York does not. The cases were consolidated in New York, and defendants successfully moved for an order that Ontario law applies. The parties eventually reached a settlement on liability, but the choice of law issue, which would govern damages, was appealed to the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division affirmed the ruling in favor of Ontario law, then granted the plaintiffs leave to appeal.
The New York Court of Appeals ultimately agreed as to the bus defendants, but not the trailer defendants. The plaintiffs argued for a single choice-of-law analysis as to all the defendants, but the high court disagreed that this was appropriate, pointing to past caselaw. Indeed, under 1972’s Neumier v. Kuehner, past cases demand that the court consider each plaintiff vis-à-vis each defendant, it said. That case also says that when a plaintiff and defendant share a common domicile, that area’s law should prevail — thus, the Court of Appeals found that Ontario law should apply to the liability of the Ontario-domiciled bus defendants to the Ontario-domiciled plaintiffs. The trailer defendants are a different story, the court said; they are domiciled in Pennsylvania. Under Neumier, the law of the place of the tort — New York — applies when that place is different from either party’s domicile. Thus, it reversed the lower courts only as to the trailer defendants and affirmed as to the bus defendants. Judge Ciparick, dissenting, argued that a single analysis should apply to all defendants, and their case is governed by New York law.
As a St. Louis semi truck accident lawyer, I sympathize with the Ontario plaintiffs who have fought this case through the New York state court system for so long. They have already settled liability, so there’s no serious dispute that the defendants caused their injuries or the deaths of their family members. Rather, the dispute is over whether the defendants have a chance to pay less than the full amount of damages because of a technicality of Ontario law. The court says New York law must respect Ontario’s choices, but the situation creates a somewhat arbitrary distinction based on where plaintiffs happen to live. A bus full of New Yorkers in the exact same wreck would have a much greater chance of collecting damages. This is why, in my work as a southern Illinois 18-wheeler accident attorney, I work hard to locate disputed cases in venues that are both proper and fair to plaintiffs.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents victims of serious trucking accidents caused by someone else’s negligence. If you’d like to talk to us about your case and your legal options, send us an email or call today at 1-877-678-3400.
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