(CN) – A lawsuit over the Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic Ocean last June should play out in French courts, not in the United States, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled.
The tragic accident on June 1, 2009 killed all 228 passengers and flight crew en route from Brazil to France. Most of the passengers and crew members were French, several were Brazilian and two were American: Michael and Anne Harris.
Representatives of the American couple sued the French carrier and the U.S. parts manufacturers in San Francisco Federal Court, triggering a dispute over where the case should be tried.
Air France claimed the litigation belonged in France, where all the evidence recovered from the crash was sent. The airline also pointed out that, at the time of the crash, the Harrises were living in Brazil, where Michael was working for a foreign affiliate of a U.S. company. They had lived there for about a year, paying income tax in Brazil and moving most of their household goods there.
The Harrises argued that the move was a temporary assignment, and their permanent home was in the United States. Their son lived in and maintained their house in Texas, where the couple still received mail and filed tax returns. They had also left their cars in Texas.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer agreed with the Harrises that their home base was in the United States.
But Breyer said the remaining factors favored litigation in France, where all the evidence is located and where the claims can be consolidated.
Breyer also noted that the representatives of the foreign passengers who died in the crash can sue Air France directly in France, but not in the United States, and litigation in France saves U.S. courts from having to apply French law.
“France is more interested than the United States in this litigation,” Breyer added.
“France’s interest is especially obvious here because it is also conducting the official civil investigation and an official criminal investigation,” he wrote.
“The Court has great sympathy for all the families who lost loved ones in this horrific accident and is interested in seeing those families fairly and timely compensated. But sympathy cannot be a substitute for an unbiased application of the law.”
The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that France was a better forum.