One of the concepts involved in initiating a lawsuit that can often be very confusing to plaintiffs is determining the proper court where the lawsuit may be brought. Particularly when lawsuits involve several plaintiffs in different locations, or a defendant company that operates in many states, it can be hard to determine the correct place to begin. While plaintiffs are often given deference in bringing a lawsuit where they would like (assuming the location is still proper), defendants can have lawsuits dismissed when the location is particularly inconvenient and other, more convenient locations are available. This is known as the doctrine of forum non conveniens. A recent case before the West Virginia Supreme Court addresses this doctrine and how it can be applied.
In State Ex Rel. Betty J. Almond v. Honorable Rudolph Murensky and Pfizer, several West Virginia residents brought suit against Pfizer, the producers of Lipitor, alleging that Lipitor gave them diabetes. In addition to the West Virginia plaintiffs, there were also four plaintiffs from New York and 26 from Texas. All of the plaintiffs filed suit in West Virginia, alleging product liability and negligence. Several months after the litigation was initiated, Pfizer moved to dismiss the claims from the out of state plaintiffs on the ground of forum non conveniens. The court granted the motion, dismissing the out of state plaintiffs. Looking at the eight factors for evaluating forum non conveniens set forth in West Virginia’s code, and the deference to be accorded to non-resident plaintiffs in their choice of forum, the West Virginia Supreme Court found that West Virginia was not the appropriate forum for them. The plaintiffs then moved for a writ of prohibition to prevent the court from enforcing its order on the motion to dismiss.
In their writ, the plaintiffs argued primarily that the lower court was wrong in determining that another adequate alternative forum existed where the out of state plaintiffs could bring their claims. The lower court had determined that the New York plaintiffs were free to pursue their claims in New York, and Texas plaintiffs could pursue their claims in Texas, since both states provided a remedy for negligence and product liability actions. The court further noted that Pfizer had consented to personal jurisdiction in these states.
In considering the plaintiffs’ writ, the Supreme Court noted that an adequate forum appeared to exist in both alternative states because it provided the plaintiffs with the remedy that they were seeking, and there were no statute of limitations concerns in either state. It noted that while the plaintiffs may have concerns about the amount of recovery they would receive in these states, or how hospitable the courts would be to their claims, such concerns did not amount to the forum being entirely inadequate for the resolution of their claims. Accordingly, the court upheld the motion to dismiss.
When dealing with out of state plaintiffs or defendants, parties must always carefully consider the possibility that their forum may be contested. While plaintiffs are entitled to deference in choosing an appropriate forum, such deference is not unlimited, and cases may be dismissed if another court is more appropriate. At the Wolfe Law Firm, our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have helped many West Virginia residents determine where their case may properly be brought and which forum will be easiest to defend. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the Wolfe Law Firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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