(CN) – The widow of a man who died after his Plymouth Neon allegedly collapsed on top of him as he worked underneath it, must fight Chrysler in Pennsylvania, not New Jersey, a federal judge ruled.
Ted’s Used Cars in Stroudsburg, Pa. sold a 1998 Plymouth Neon compact car to Michael Gordet on Nov. 30, 2010, according to the complaint.
About two years later, while Gordet was working underneath the vehicle in Whiting, N.J., its mechanical jack allegedly failed, causing the car to collapse on top of him on Nov. 10, 2012.
Gordet ultimately died from his severe injuries, according to the complaint.
His widow and administratrix of his estate, Tanya Gordet, filed a wrongful death and product liability action against Chrysler Group LLC; its parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV; Ted’s Used Cars dba Saylorsburg Auto Sales; and 15 anonymous defendants in Ocean County, N.J. Superior Court on Dec. 29, 2014.
Chrysler later removed the suit to federal court.
Ted’s moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on March 24.
But U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in Newark dismissed the motion and transferred the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania Oct. 21.
“Although plaintiff alleges that defendant ‘regularly transacts business in the State of New Jersey,’ this allegation does not meet the stringent requirement for general jurisdiction,” Wolfson wrote. “Indeed, discovery has revealed that from 2004 to 2015, less than 1 percent of defendant’s cars were sold to New Jersey residents.”
The judge tossed aside Mrs. Gordet’s “stream of commerce” theory.
“Plaintiff argues that defendant not only placed the Neon in the stream of commerce by selling it to Michael Gordet, but that defendant ‘targeted’ New Jersey through its website (which provided driving direction from New Jersey and stated that defendant served New Jersey), appearing in yellowpages search results, and by advertising in an Autoshopper circular in the Poconos area,” Wolfson wrote.
The judge later added: “The complaint fails to allege that plaintiff’s purchase of the Neon from defendant, or David Gordet’s death, would not have occurred in the absence of defendant’s contacts with New Jersey; plaintiff does not allege that defendant’s website (or other advertisements) enticed or led Michael Gordet to travel to Pennsylvania to purchase the Neon. Indeed, it is not apparent that defendant’s website even contained the same language ‘targeting’ New Jersey customers in November 2010, when Michael Gordet purchased the Neon, as the only screenshots provided to the court are from March and April 2005. Nor is there any allegation that defendant’s other activities in New Jersey, such as its unrelated sales to 51 New Jersey residents, or its mechanic’s disputed-residence in this state, were a ‘but-for’ cause of plaintiff’s instant litigation.”
Mrs. Gordet’s attorney, Christopher Koutsouris, said “Although I am disappointed that this issue, decided on a technicality, will force my grieving client to litigate this case and incur increased expenses in a foreign jurisdiction, I remain convinced that we will prevail on the merits regardless of the venue.”
Fiat Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese declined to comment on the ruling.
The firm posted a net loss of $330.4 million for the quarter ended Sept. 30, to cover costs linked to safety recalls in North America and vehicles destroyed in an explosion in China, according to the Wall Street Journal. Revenue reportedly rose to $30.2 billion over a year earlier.
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