Monday, September 25, 2023
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Court Nixes Venue Switch for Plane Crash Claims

CHICAGO (CN) - Boeing will have to defend itself against 29 class action lawsuits in the state court, rather than in federal court, the 7th Circuit ruled.

A total of 117 plaintiffs filed 29 separate actions against Boeing over the crash of Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 in 2009.

The suits were brought in Illinois, where Boeing is headquartered, though only one plaintiff has residency in the state. The remaining plaintiffs - who are victims, or representatives of victims, injured or killed in the crash - are foreigners.

The Boeing 737-800 crashed into a field less than a mile from the runway as it was landing, killing nine of the 135 on board.

Boeing claimed that the evidence relating to the design and construction of the potentially faulty airliner was located in the state of Washington, where the plane was manufactured. Boeing requested a dismissal in Illinois, claiming its employees would be considerably inconvenienced by having to travel repeatedly from Washington to Illinois to testify.

The plaintiffs countered that after liability is determined in one case, the decision would determine liability for the remaining cases.

Boeing jumped on that statement, which it claimed constituted a proposal from the plaintiffs to conduct a joint trial. The aerospace company then tried to transfer the cases to federal court, citing the Class Action Fairness Act. The judges did not agree - seven of the cases have already been remanded back to the state courts.

The 7th Circuit upheld the decisions, writing that "the plaintiff's statement falls just short of a proposal, as it is rather a prediction of what might happen if the judge decided to hold a mass trial."

"Boeing's removal of these cases was premature," Judge Richard Posner wrote for the court. "The proposal cannot be made by a defendant so Boeing's desire for a joint trial (a desire based we assume on its preference for defending these suits in federal rather than state court) cannot support removal." (Parentheses in original.)

Posner also clarified the circuit's class action rules, writing that the state court could not enable removal by deciding on its own initiative to conduct a joint trial.

"That would not be a proposal; and anyway the aim of the removal provision is to prevent plaintiffs from trying to circumvent the Class Action Fairness Act by bringing a class action as a mass action," the ruling states.

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