Widow Doesn’t Have to Sue Marriott in Pakistan

     (CN) – It would be a “perversion of justice” to make a widow and her children travel to Pakistan for their lawsuit over a terrorist attack there, the 4th Circuit ruled.
     Albert DiFederico had been working as a civilian contractor for the U.S. State Department in Pakistan on Sept. 20, 2008, when a suicide bomber crashed a truck into the Marriott Islamabad Hotel and set off a fatal explosion.
     DiFederico was one of 56 killed in the ensuing hotel fire that injured at least 266 more.
     His widow, Mary DiFederico, and their three sons filed a June 2011 federal complaint in Maryland against Marriott International.
     Though a Pakistan company named Hashwani Hotels owned and operated the Marriott Pakistan franchise, the DiFedericos claimed that the Maryland-based Marriott was liable for wrongful death because of its control over the hotel’s anti-terrorism security.
     U.S. District Judge Roger Titus dismissed the complaint, however, after finding that Pakistan was the proper forum for the DiFedericos’ lawsuit. Though Titus conceded that the statute of limitations would likely bar a lawsuit in Pakistan at that point, he said the DiFedericos could not preserve their suit in Maryland because they had made a “tactical decision” to not litigate in Pakistan within the statute of limitations.
     A three-judge panel of the Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court reversed Wednesday with some harsh words for Titus.
     Titus committed an “abuse of discretion” in failing to do give deference to the DiFedericos’ choice of a home forum, according to the ruling.
     “The DiFedericos’ argument for convenience and justice begins with avoiding the fear and emotional trauma associated with pursuing their case in Pakistan,” Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the panel.
     “We conclude that it would be a perversion of justice to force a widow and her children to place themselves in the same risk-laden situation that led to the death of a family member,” Gregory added. “The DiFedericos are inconvenienced by the fear, emotional trauma, and associated logistical complexity that would afflict them if this case were dismissed and decided in Pakistan.”
     Though the DiFedericos would not necessarily have to testify at a trial in Pakistan, their failure to do so would put their case at a distinct disadvantage, according to the ruling.
     Preparing to participate in such proceedings would carry an untenable toll for the family, the court said.
     “The fear and emotional trauma involved in travel to Pakistan for a trial concerning such a politically charged event would give rise to a bevy of logistical concerns and expenses,” Gregory wrote. “The DiFedericos would either have to stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants, and shop in the stores that the State Department identifies as present-day terrorist targets or incur great expense in avoiding them. If the DiFedericos followed the State Department’s warnings, they would have to steer clear of facilities catering to Americans. As such, it would likely be necessary to hire someone to help them access basic amenities and navigate an unfamiliar cultural setting. Further, they may need to hire bodyguards for protection. It is indisputable that the DiFedericos are inconvenienced by these logistical complexities and expenses, let alone the fear and emotional trauma itself.”
     Gregory also slammed the trial court for “fail[ing] to point to any evidence substantiating its determination that the DiFedericos made a deliberate and tactical decision to let the statute of limitations run in Pakistan to avoid dismissal.”
     Indeed, the DiFedericos said that the Marriot’s refusal to waive the statute of limitations meant that dismissal of their case would be automatic in Pakistan. Furthermore the Marriott never alleged “that the DiFedericos had been purposefully dilatory,” according to the ruling.
     Andrew Hall, the Hall, Lamb & Hall lawyer who represents the DiFedericos, said his clients are “obviously very pleased with this ruling.”
     “The idea that this trial should be held in such a hostile and dangerous environment was very troubling,” the Miami-based Hall said. “We found it bizarre that a case involving an American company and an American individual can’t get a day in a U.S. court.”
     Paul Leary, the Marriott’s Philadelphia-based lawyer with Cozen O’Conner, did not return a request for comment.

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