Crash Victims Can't Sue Aircraft Maker in Calif.
(CN) - The family of a man killed in a November 2010 plane crash in Cuba cannot sue the French manufacturer of the aircraft in California, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Lorenzo Corazon Mendoza Cervantes was one of 61 passengers killed when the Aero Caribbean ATR 72 in which he was flying crashed en route to Havana, Cuba on November 4, 2010. All seven members of the flight crew were also killed in what has been described as third deadliest aviation accident in Cuban history.
In the aftermath of the crash, Cervantes's widow, Gloria Martinez Montes, and his three sons, Lorenzo Mendoza Martinez, Eliu Mendoza and Eliezer Mendoza Martinez sued the plane's manufacturer, Avions de Transport Regional (ATR), a French company, in the Federal Court in San Francisco.
In their lawsuit, they alleged claims of product liability, negligence, breach of warranty and wrongful death against ATR, and a number of other claims, which were not at issue on appeal, against Aero Caribbean, Empressa Aerocaribbean S.A., and Cubana de Aviacion S.A, which owned, maintained and operated the ill-fated aircraft.
ATR moved to dismiss on the grounds that there was no evidence the airplane was ever operated in California or owned by a California citizen or resident. U.S. District Judge William Alsup granted ATR's motion to dismiss and denied plaintiffs' request for additional jurisdictional discovery.
Cervantes's family appealed to the 9th Circuit, which held that since the Cuban defendants had not yet been served at the time of Judge Alsup's ruling, his decision wasn't a final judgment in the case.
On limited remand, Judge Alsup certified his original finding, holding that the California lacked jurisdiction over the case. The family's appeal then went back to the 9th Circuit.
In affirming the District Court's ruling, the three-judge panel held that a court "may only exercise general personal jurisdiction over a corporation only when its contacts 'render it essentially at home' in the state."
In this case, wrote, U.S. Circuit Judge William A. Fletcher, the controlling precedent is Burnham v. Superior Court, and "Burnham does not authorize tag jurisdiction over corporations. ..."
Therefore, Fletcher continued, "ATR's contacts with California are insufficient to support general jurisdiction" and "Additional jurisdictional discovery would be futile."