WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether Ford must go into courts in Minnesota and Montana to defend itself from claims that it should be held liable for car crashes that left a woman dead and a man with a brain injury.
The case stems from a pair of unrelated car accidents in 2015, one in Montana and another in Minnesota, and the core dispute the court will weigh is where the resulting lawsuits should be heard.
While she was driving down a Montana highway in 2015, the tread on one of the tires on Markkaya Gullett’s Ford Explorer separated, causing the car to roll into a ditch. She was killed in the accident.
The same year, a snow plow in Minnesota rear-ended a Crown Victoria in which Adam Bandemer was a passenger. The airbag on Bandemer’s side of the car did not go off and he left the accident with a severe brain injury.
Bandemer sued Ford in Minnesota state court, while the personal representative of Gullett’s estate did the same in Montana.
The auto giant, which is headquartered in Michigan and incorporated in Delaware, moved to dismiss both cases on jurisdictional grounds. Ford argued that because it had nothing to do with the cars being in the states where the accidents happened —neither car was manufactured or even sold in Montana or Minnesota — the courts did not have jurisdiction over the company.
Neither state court agreed and the state supreme courts upheld the decisions.
In urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the cases, Ford noted state courts in Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Montana, Texas and West Virginia have separated from other courts in how to decide whether they have jurisdiction over claims against an out-of-state defendant.
“There is a deep conflict among federal and state courts over what connection due process requires between a plaintiff’s claims and a non-resident defendant’s forum contacts for a court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction,” Ford’s petition in Bandemer’s case states.
Per their custom, the justices did not comment on the decision to take up the consolidated cases.
Ford is represented by Hogan Lovells attorney Sean Marotta, who did not immediately return a request for comment.
Deepak Gupta, an attorney with the Washington, D.C., firm Gupta Wessler who is leading the Montana case, also did not return a request for comment, and neither did Kyle Farrar, an attorney with Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball who represents Bandemer.