Wrongful Death Case Arising from Defective Tire Dismissed for Lack of Jurisdiction in Texas Courts

East Texas car accidents can happen for many different reasons. In most multi-vehicle cases, a wreck is caused by the negligence of one or both of the drivers – speeding, distracted driving, and driving while intoxicated are all common causes of motor vehicle accidents. In a single-vehicle accident, a driver may be at fault, but this is not always so. There could have been another factor, such as a defect in the automobile, a dangerous road (possibly due to improper maintenance), or an obstacle caused by a third party.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in a recent appellate court case (No. 09-16-00280-CV; Court of Appeals for the Ninth District of Texas) were the heirs of a woman who was killed in 2006 when an allegedly defective tire on a 1995 Ford Explorer in which she was riding caused an accident. The decedent and her heirs were all residents of Mexico, and the accident happened in Mexico.

In 2007, the plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants, the manufacturers of the vehicle and the tire, asserting a claim for product liability. That case was eventually dismissed by the Texas courts based on the forum non conveniens doctrine in 2010. The order of dismissal contained a provision that, if the plaintiffs refiled their claim in Mexico and the Mexican court declared itself incompetent to preside over the matter, the plaintiffs would not be barred from re-filing their claims in Texas.

In 2014, the plaintiffs filed another petition for relief in Texas, asserting that the Mexican courts had denied jurisdiction over the defendants. The case was transferred to a Texas court that was handling multi-district litigation (MDL) in similar cases, and the “new” case was then consolidated with the plaintiffs’ “old” case. Thereafter, the MDL was closed, and the plaintiffs’ case was transferred back to the court in which the “new” case was originally filed. In 2016, the trial court entered an order holding that the defendants were subject to the general jurisdiction of the court. The defendants appealed, challenging the trial court’s ruling on jurisdiction.

Decision of the Court

The court of appeal reversed the trial court’s decision, deciding that the Texas courts lacked general jurisdiction over the defendants and dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. Although the plaintiffs had made jurisdictional allegations regarding the defendants’ contacts in Texas, the appellate court found that the respective business activities of the defendants were insufficient to permit the assertion of all-purpose general jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims (or others like them).

The court further opined that the facts of the case at bar did not give rise to “exceptional” circumstances (as some prior cases had), and, thus, it would have been an excessive exercise of all-purpose jurisdiction to have allowed the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed. Since the plaintiffs had failed to allege jurisdictional facts to support a finding that the defendants’ affiliations with Texas were so “continuous and systematic” as to render them essentially at home in Texas, the plaintiffs failed to meet their initial burden to bring the defendants within the jurisdiction of the trial court.

In so holding, the appellate court noted that the defendants were not incorporated in Texas, nor did they have their principal place of business in Texas.

Consult an Experienced East Texas Car Accident Lawyer

At Earl Drott Law in Tyler, we handle many types of car accident cases in and around Smith County, including crashes caused by the failure of a defective product. If you need to talk to a lawyer about your east Texas injury or wrongful death case, you can reach us at 903-531-9300. There is no charge for the initial consultation, and many cases are handled on a contingency fee contract (legal fees are withheld from the settlement or judgment rather than being paid upfront).

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