By Kevin L. Connors, Esquire
This is a crowded confessional, and most of the pews are also full.
So you are seeking the best possible forum to try your personal injury lawsuit in, in order to secure the highest possible verdict, irrespective of where you are from, where your accident occurred, or any potential inconvenience that might be imposed upon the Court, potential jurors, and obviously any witnesses that might be involved in the discovery at trial phase of the case.
In Pisieczko v. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Superior Court recently affirmed the Trial Court’s dismissal of the Plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit, granting the Defendants’ Petition to Dismiss, based upon the doctrine of forum non conveniens.
The doctrine of forum non conveniens has been codified 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5322(e), providing:
“(e) Inconvenient Forum-when a tribunal finds that in the interest of substantial justice the matter should be heard in another forum, the tribunal may stay or dismiss the matter in whole or in part on any conditions that may be just.”
In Pisieczko, the Trial Courts, herein the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, had granted the Defendants’ Petition to Dismiss, and the Plaintiffs, Kenneth and Doris Pisieczko, husband and wife, were both residents of New Jersey, alleged that Kenneth Pisieczko had sustained personal injuries on November 19, 2012, when injured while working as an independent contractor at a medical facility owned and operated by the Defendant in Mays Landing, New Jersey.
In their Complaint, the Plaintiffs’ had alleged that the Plaintiff’s injuries occurred as a result of the Plaintiff repairing an exterior light atop a pole, in the course of his independent contractor work for the Defendant.
The Plaintiffs alleged that their lawsuit was predicated on the Defendant having allowed a dangerous condition to be present, being a pole that broke as the Plaintiff was ascending a ladder placed against the pole, resulting in the Plaintiff falling to the ground and sustaining injuries, with the Plaintiffs filing their lawsuit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
Raising the doctrine of forum non conveniens in the Defendants’ Petition for Dismissal, the Defendant argued that New Jersey was a more proper venue for the case, since:
• The accident occurred in New Jersey;
• The Plaintiffs were residents of New Jersey; and,
• Most of the witnesses resided and worked in the locale where the Plaintiff was allegedly injured.
Claiming that Philadelphia County was a proper venue, the Plaintiffs argued that the Defendant was headquartered in Philadelphia, that several witnesses worked and lived in Philadelphia, and that the Plaintiffs’ choice of forum should only be disturbed for “weighty reasons”.
Nonetheless, the Trial Court granted the Defendants’ Petition, dismissing the case from Philadelphia County, and suggesting that the case be transferred to Atlanta County, as that was the County seat for the location where the Plaintiffs’ 2012 accident and injury occurred.
Appealing the Dismissal of their lawsuit, the Plaintiffs argued before the Superior Court that the Trial Court had incorrectly dismissed their lawsuit, arguing that their choice of forum should only be disturbed for “weighty reasons”, and that there must be an alternate forum available, prior to their case being dismissed.
Considering the arguments raised by the Plaintiffs on appeal, the Superior Court first found that there was no question that an alternative forum existed for the Plaintiffs to litigate their case in, specifically being that the Plaintiffs could re-file their lawsuit in New Jersey, and that the Trial Court had not, therefore, abused its discretion in dismissing the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit.
Further considering the public and private factors that must be analyzed in the course of determining whether the doctrine of forum non conveniens should be applied, the Superior Court agreed with the Trial Court’s reasoning.
The private factors supporting dismissal were:
• Site of the accident in New Jersey;
• The Plaintiffs were New Jersey residents;
• That most of the potential witnesses were also located in New Jersey;
• That a trial in New Jersey would have facilitated attendance of both parties and witnesses;
• That litigating the case in New Jersey would substantially reduce the costs that might be incurred in the course of obtaining witnesses;
• And that a potential view of the accident site would be much less complicated logistically, if requested by a New Jersey jury, as opposed to being requested by a Philadelphia jury.
The Superior Court also examined the public factors that had been considered by the Trial Court, in the course of dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, to include:
• New Jersey Courts are much less congested than Philadelphia Courts;
• A Philadelphia jury would have no relationship to the litigation, as the accident occurred in New Jersey, and the Plaintiffs and their witnesses to the accident were New Jersey residents;
• It would be far more expeditious, with fewer associated costs, to have an Atlanta County Judge familiar with New Jersey law, which would be the prevailing personal injury law, to rule upon and issue the necessary Orders and preside over a Trial by a jury composed of New Jersey residents, as opposed to Philadelphia residents.
Considering all of the private and public factors that the Trial Court had relied upon in dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, the Superior Court found no Trial Court abuse dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint in the course of affirming the Trial Court’s Order.
Notwithstanding the Defendant being a very prominent medical facility in Philadelphia, this is an excellent case for consideration of the application of the forum non conveniens doctrine, as this particular case illustrates a clear case of forum-shopping by the Plaintiffs.
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