In some cases, it may not be completely clear which forum (or state) is the best place to bring a lawsuit. Parties may be residents of different states, and the action that forms the basis of the lawsuit may have occurred in an entirely different state. In such situations, plaintiffs may have options for deciding where to bring their lawsuit and which laws should apply. While courts understand that various options may be available to plaintiffs, they also seek to discourage forum shopping, which occurs when plaintiffs attempt to bring a lawsuit in a state with laws that are more favorable to them. Courts greatly dislike forum shopping and do not look kindly upon it. One example, discussed below, occurred recently in a West Virginia case in which the plaintiffs, primarily from Ohio, brought a lawsuit in West Virginia courts and attempted to apply West Virginia law.
In this large-scale negligence case, 79 plaintiffs brought claims against American Electric Power Company and the Ohio Power Company, alleging that they were injured when their spouses and family members brought home deadly Coal Combustion Residuals (“CCRs”) from landfills and mines into their homes. The CCRs led family members to develop cancer and other significant health conditions. AEPC was located in West Virginia, and the plaintiffs brought their claims in West Virginia court, despite the fact that none of the plaintiffs lived in West Virginia, and the CCR landfill and incidents occurred in Ohio. Shortly after the complaint was filed, AEPC moved to dismiss it, arguing that Ohio law should apply to the case, and Ohio’s Mixed Dust Statute prevented the company from being liable for off-premises dust exposure. The plaintiffs argued that although West Virginia required that the law of the place of injury be applied to the case, an exception should be granted here under West Virginia law because the application of Ohio’s Mixed Dust Statute would be contrary to West Virginia’s public policy of allowing injured parties to sue those who caused their injuries. The lower court agreed and denied the motion to dismiss. AEPC and its co-defendants appealed.
Under West Virginia law, the rule of applying the law of the place where the injury happened is to be followed unless doing so would contravene West Virginia’s public policy. Here, the Supreme Court agreed that West Virginia courts were generally required to apply Ohio law to this case, since the injuries occurred in Ohio. It also agreed that the application of Ohio’s Mixed Dust Statute would require it to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims. It then turned to the question of whether the lower court properly invoked the public policy exception. It found that prior cases had raised the public policy exception when out of state laws would deny plaintiffs rights they would be entitled to exercise under West Virginia law, but in those cases, the plaintiffs had closer ties to West Virginia. They were residents of West Virginia, were suing defendants from West Virginia, or had significant actions that had occurred in West Virginia. Here, although the application of the Mixed Dust Statute would prevent the plaintiffs from asserting claims against AEPC, while West Virginia law would allow them to do so, the Supreme Court noted that none of the plaintiffs had any sort of connection to West Virginia or basis for asserting that their rights under West Virginia law should be protected. Because of this lack of connection, the Supreme Court concluded that the plaintiffs were engaging in forum shopping by attempting to invoke West Virginia’s public policy exception, which was not appropriate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims and granted the motion to dismiss.
If you are dealing with a case involving multiple claimants or defendants from different states, or in which actions occurred in multiple states, it is strongly recommended that you seek legal assistance to help you determine a good place to bring your lawsuit and which laws you believe should apply. At the Wolfe Law Firm, our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have helped many West Virginia residents decide where to bring their lawsuit. 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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