Court Again Bars Case Over Air France Crash

     WASHINGTON (CN) – For the second time, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit stemming from the mid-Atlantic crash of Air France Flight 447, saying that France is the proper venue for such a suit because French companies built, owned and operated the plane.

     The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the plaintiffs’ first suit in October 2010, accepting the airline’s forum non conveniens argument that France was the natural jurisdiction for cases arising from the crash of Flight 447, given that most of the defendants were French.
     Forum non conveniens is the doctrine that allows a court to refuse jurisdiction cases where a more appropriate forum is available to the parties.
     The plaintiffs tried to get around this argument by dropping all French defendants from the suit, naming as defendants only the U.S. companies that manufactured various components to the crashed Airbus 330. As such, the plaintiffs argued that France was no longer an available venue for their complaint.
     The San Francisco-based court rejected this ploy saying that plaintiffs “cannot purposefully defeat the availability of a foreign forum and then assert unavailability to defeat forum non conveniens dismissal.”
     Calling the plaintiffs’ pleading that France was unavailable as a forum “artificial,” U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer noted they only dropped the French defendants after they lost the original fight over jurisdiction.
     Dropping plaintiffs to defeat a previous ruling on the forum non conveniens finding would only be permissible if compelling new evidence emerged that shifted the likely liability for the crash to the U.S. defendants, the court said.
     Breyer ruled that no such shift had occurred. “The available evidence suggests that French companies are at least partially responsible for the crash in that a French company designed and manufactured the plane and was responsible for its testing; a French company manufactured a product that failed in flight; and a French company trained the pilots, who may have acted negligently,” the 16-page decision states.
     Breyer also noted that “the French authorities have indicted two French companies (Airbus and Air France) for involuntary manslaughter, but no American companies have been charged.”
     Flight 447 left Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, en route to Paris, France, on May 31, 2009, and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean midway between the coasts of Brazil and Africa, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew aboard.
     Though the exact cause of the crash is still unknown, water in tubes that housed the plane’s air-speed sensors have been indentified as a possible cause. The investigation has been hampered by the depth of the ocean and ruggedness of the ocean floor where the plain crashed. The in-flight recorders also known as black boxes were only recovered in May of this year.

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