Safari Balloon Company Escapes Reach of U.S. Law

     (CN) – The victims of a hot air balloon crash in the Serengeti cannot sue the Tanzanian balloon company in U.S. courts, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2010, Harvey Marron and Grace Weinberg bought a safari trip to Tanzania from a Massachusetts travel agent, including tickets for a hot air balloon ride. The agent did not tell them that a balloon had previously crashed due to high winds.
     On the day of their flight, it was windy at the launch site, and an earlier balloon ride was canceled. However, Marron and Weinberg were not informed about the cancellation or of the risk of flying under windy conditions.
     As their balloon attempted to descend, the wind blew the balloon into a tree, killing Marron and another passenger. Weinberg broke her arm, which was trapped in the balloon’s rigging and dragged across the ground. She waited for hours alongside Marron’s body for rescue in the remote area.
     Weinberg and Marron’s estate sought punitive damages from the Massachusetts travel agency, Overseas Adventures, and Serengeti Balloon Safaris on strict liability and negligence claims.
     However, U.S. District Judge William Young ruled that the pair could not sue the Tanzanian balloon company in a U.S. court and granted Serengeti’s motion to dismiss.
     “A hot air balloon tour within the country of Tanzania that was accidentally swept by wind did not include an ‘agreed stopping place within the territory of another State’ and is therefore not covered by the Montreal Convention,” the treaty establishing rules for victims of air crashes, Young said.
     “It seems unfair that the Serengeti defendants can reap the benefits of obtaining American business and not be subject to suit in our country. It is perhaps unfortunate that recent jurisprudence appears to ‘turn the clock back to the days before modern long-arm statutes when a [business], to avoid being hailed into court where a user is injured, need only Pilate-like wash its hands of a product by having [agents] market it,’ and that, in many circumstances, American consumers ‘may now have to litigate in distant fora – or abandon their claims altogether,’ but this Court must follow the law as authoritatively declared,” Young continued, quoting legal criticism.
     The court permitted the plaintiffs’ claims against Overseas Adventure, which booked the tickets for the couple, to proceed to the next stage of litigation.”This memorandum and order demonstrates an obvious but lamentable truth – that where personal jurisdiction is limited, the parties most culpable may escape liability, leaving the burden of recovery on defendants close to home – even when they are undoubtedly less culpable,” Young concluded.

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