Texas Supreme Court Holds that Party Who Won the “Race to Courthouse” Picked Jurisdiction, Unless Race Was Unfair – In re J.B. Hunt Transport

small courthouse

There are many different kinds of shopping – grocery shopping, back-to-school shopping – but there’s one kind of shopping of which you probably haven’t heard, unless you’re in the legal field. So-called “forum shopping” refers to a situation in which opposing parties in a lawsuit seek to have their dispute heard in a particular court because of a perceived advantage in that forum.

Of course, there are limitations to forum shopping. Usually, the dispute boils down to which of two or three possible courts should have jurisdiction. When multiple suits are filed in differing jurisdictions, it is up to the appellate court to make a final determination as to the court in which the matter will proceed.

Facts of the Case

In the case of In re J.B. Hunt Transport, a tractor-trailer struck a disabled smaller vehicle that, according to a police report, entered the truck’s lane after the vehicle experienced engine failure. The accident occurred in Waller County, Texas. The smaller vehicle’s occupants were hurt in the crash, and one later died. The truck owner filed suit against the occupants of the smaller vehicle (and the vehicle’s co-owners) in Waller County, seeking to recover compensation for property damage to the truck. As grounds, the truck owner alleged that the occupants and co-owners of the smaller vehicle had failed to properly maintain the vehicle and that this had contributed to the mechanical problems that led to the crash and the damage to the truck.

Ten days later, the vehicle occupants filed suit against the truck owner and the truck driver in Dallas County, seeking personal injury damages. In their suit, the occupants claimed that the truck driver’s negligence caused the wreck and that the truck owner was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The truck owner filed a plea of abatement in Dallas County, arguing that Waller County had dominant jurisdiction.

The occupants of the smaller vehicle argued that an exception to the “first-filed rule” applied. The Dallas County court agreed, ruling that it had dominant jurisdiction.

Decision of the Supreme Court of Texas

Upon review, the Supreme Court of Texas held that Waller County had dominant jurisdiction. According to the court, the case boiled down to a “race to the courthouse” because there were two forums in which the parties’ dispute could be settled, and each side had a preference of one over the other. In such cases, the party that filed the first suit wins the jurisdictional race as long as the race was not unfairly run. Although the occupants of the smaller vehicle argued that the truck owner had engaged in foul play and gamesmanship, the court apparently disagreed.

If You Have Been Hurt by a Negligent Trucker or Trucking Company

Truck accidents, semi crashes, and 18-wheeler wrecks are all too common on our Texas highways. If you or a family member has been injured in a commercial truck collision, an east Texas truck accident lawyer at Earl Drott, P.C., can help. As this case demonstrates, a trucking company usually has someone on the case from the time of the accident forward. Call us for an appointment at (903) 531-9300. We represent families throughout Tyler, Smith County, and the surrounding area. There is no charge for the consultation, and most cases are handled on a contingency fee.

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