Pennsylvania Superior Court Reverses Forum Non Conveniens Dismissal Of International Air Crash Case, But Don't Equate Pennsylvania With Cook County, Illinois (Just Yet)

United States courts facing forum non conveniens (FNC) motions, at least with respect to lawsuits arising out of air crashes that occur outside of the United States, seem to fall into two distinct camps: Cook County, Illinois, where FNC motions very often are said to go to die,1 and the rest of the country, where these motions much more frequently are granted.2 While this characterization might be a slight oversimplification, in practice, it has been seen to be not far from reality.

After the Superior Court of Pennsylvania's decision to reverse the trial court's dismissal on FNC grounds in Bochetto v. Piper Aircraft Co., 2014 Pa. Super 120, 2014 Pa. Super. LEXIS 1180 (June 9, 2014), some have questioned whether Pennsylvania is coming closer to following Cook County's lead. A careful reading of the Court's decision, however, reveals faithful application of preexisting Pennsylvania law in its remand to the trial court for evaluation of what the Court found to be all potentially relevant factors. At the moment, it would be premature for there to be great cause for concern among aviation defendants that Pennsylvania courts are moving closer to the experience in Cook County for deciding FNC motions related to international air crashes.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit in Bochetto arises out of the September 15, 2009 crash of a Model PA 34-2023 Seneca V aircraft that was being operated by Aeronautical Academy of Evora (AAE), a flight school near Castro Verde, Portugal. The aircraft was manufactured by Piper Aircraft Co. (Piper) in Florida, and was owned by two different U.S. entities between 1998 and 2001 before being sold to a Belgian company that leased it to AAE. AAE is an independent company but is part of a worldwide chain of flight schools operated by CAE Global Academy (CAE), which also operates a number of flight schools in the U.S.

The three occupants of the aircraft, two students (one was a Dutch citizen and the other had dual Dutch/Australian citizenship) and one instructor (a Spanish citizen), died. The action was brought by an administrator appointed to act on behalf of the estates and the victims' parents, who were citizens of Spain, Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles.

The action originally was brought in Pennsylvania state court against 14 American defendants allegedly associated with the manufacture of the aircraft and its component parts. Piper removed the action to federal court, but it was remanded based on the forum defendant rule.


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