How Does “Personal Jurisdiction” Affect a Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you want to file a personal injury lawsuit in a Florida court, you must establish that the court has “personal jurisdiction” over the defendant. This is usually not a big deal. For example, if you are a Florida resident and get into a car accident with another Florida resident, a Florida court clearly has personal jurisdiction, since both parties live in the state.
Personal jurisdiction gets trickier, however, when you want to sue someone who does not live in Florida. That is not to say it is impossible. Florida has what we call a “long-arm” statute that allows its courts to establish personal jurisdiction over non-residents if certain criteria are met. For example, if the defendant lives in another state but routinely does business in Florida, that is sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction under the long-arm statute.
Florida Court Rejects Application of “Long-Arm Statute” to Illinois Resident Involved in Kentucky Accident
That said, a recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal clarified that any business interests in the state must be for the personal benefit of the non-resident in question. The case before the appellate court, Yarger v. Convergence Aviation Ltd., involved an airplane accident. The plaintiff owned and managed aircraft. It hired the defendant, an Illinois resident, to run a subsidiary LLC based in Florida.
One day in 2008, the defendant rode on one of the plaintiff’s planes to Florida for a work-related visit. During the return trip to Illinois, however, the airplane got into an accident somewhere over Kentucky. The defendant subsequently purchased parts to repair the damaged plane. A dispute subsequently arose over these replacement parts, prompting the plaintiff to sue the defendant in Florida circuit court.
The question before the Fifth District was whether the circuit court incorrectly asserted personal jurisdiction over the Illinois-based defendant. The appeals court agreed with the defendant there was no personal jurisdiction. While the defendant may have engaged in various business activities in Florida, they were all on behalf of the plaintiff. In other words, any ties the defendant had to Florida were via his employer. That was insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction based on “operating, conducting, engaging in, or carrying on a business,” as defined by the Florida long-arm statute.
It should be noted there are other ways to establish long-arm jurisdiction in Florida. For instance, personal jurisdiction may also exist when the defendant owns real property in the state. The plaintiff here suggested this could also give Florida personal jurisdiction, as the defendant had an “equitable interest” in some of the LLC’s Florida property. The Fifth District rejected this argument as well, noting that this property had nothing to do with the substance of the plaintiff’s lawsuit, which basically involved theft or replacement parts necessitated by an accident that took place in Kentucky.
Speak with a Florida Personal Injury Attorney Today
Jurisdiction is just one of many procedural issues that a party must confront when pursuing a civil lawsuit. An experienced personal injury lawyer can guide you through every step of the process. Contact the Leifer Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.