Plane Crash Suit Denied Landing in Any Court

     (CN) – The heirs of Venezuelan plane crash victims have no court to turn to after both the 11th Circuit and France’s highest court denied jurisdiction over their case.
     In 2005, a plane en route from Panama to Martinique crashed in Venezuela, killing everyone on board. The plane was owned by West Caribbean, a Columbian carrier, but chartered by two American companies based in Florida.
     Heirs of some of the passengers killed in the crash sued the aircraft carrier, West Caribbean, in the Southern District of Florida. That court denied jurisdiction, however, finding that the plaintiffs should have filed their case in Martinique, the doomed plane’s final destination. The decision was upheld on appeal.
     Sylvia Bapte, the heir of passengers Stephanie and Maryvonne Bapte, then filed in Martinique, an island in the Caribbean governed by France, but challenged the French court’s jurisdiction.
     After years of litigation, the Court of Cassation, the French supreme court, held that French courts were precluded from ruling on the matter because the Baptes had already filed their Montreal Convention claims in the Southern District of Florida.
     Claiming that this ruling meant Martinique could not be an alternate forum, Bapte then returned to the U.S. District Court where she tried to vacate the original forum order.
     The district court denied that motion, however, and the 11th Circuit affirmed Monday.
     “Though the Baptes consistently argued that Martinique was an unavailable forum in each of the French courts they encountered – the Regional Court of Fort-de-France, the Fort-de-France Court of Appeals, and the Court of Cassation – they failed to raise that argument to the Southern District of Florida in 2007 during the pendency of defendants’ motion to dismiss,” Judge Joel Dubina wrote for a three-member panel. “Indeed, the district court noted that the Baptes did not dispute the adequacy of Martinique as an alternate forum.”
     He continued: “The appropriate time for a plaintiff to argue the unavailability of an alternate forum is in their brief opposing a defendant’s motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens. The Baptes failed to do that in the district court. They have also not offered any explanation for their failure to argue unavailability at the appropriate time in the Southern District of Florida instead of waiting until they presented their claims to the courts in Martinique.”
     The decision apparently leaves the plaintiffs without any forum to bring their claims against West Caribbean.

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