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Alabama Supreme Court Limits Forum Shopping In Personal Injury Lawsuits

Jeff Friedman and Jess Boone successfully transferred a personal injury liquor liability lawsuit from plaintiff friendly Barbour County to Escambia County under the "interest of justice" prong of Alabama's forum non conveniens statute, Alabama Code § 6-3-21.1. Although § 6-3-21.1 was enacted in 1987, it was infrequently used and often ineffective as a means for defendants to defeat forum shopping by plaintiffs. In Ex parte McKenzie Oil Co., Inc., 13 So.2d 346 (Ala. 2008), however, the Alabama Supreme Court clarified the utility and purpose of the “interest of justice” prong of § 6-3-21.1 in a case that Jeff and Jess handled.

 

In Ex parte McKenzie Oil Co., Inc., the plaintiff was severely injured after being struck by a drunk driver in an automobile accident that happened in Escambia County. He sued the driver and the convenience store that allegedly sold alcohol to the driver while he was visibly intoxicated. The plaintiff filed suit in Barbour County, the location of the convenience store's headquarters. Although automobile accident happened in Escambia County, the subject convenience store and its employees were located in Escambia County, the intoxicated driver lived in Escambia County and was prosecuted by local authorities and the plaintiff received medical treatment in Escambia County, the trial judge did not rule on McKenzie Oil's motion to transfer venue and otherwise deferred ruling on it until after the close of discovery.

 

McKenzie Oil filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Alabama Supreme Court arguing that the trial court could not delay or defer ruling on the venue issue, but was instead was required to transfer the case to Escambia County.  Agreeing with McKenzie Oil, the Court transferred to the case to Escambia County under the "interest of justice prong" of § 6-3-21.1. The Court emphasized the mandatory nature of § 6-3-21.1 and the Court's preference that personal injury cases be litigated in the forum where the injury happened. As a result of this 2008 opinion, the Court clarified its previous opinions about venue issues under the “interest of justice” prong, thus giving defendants an effective means to defeat forum shopping.


Contributing Author:

Jess S. Boone
Jess. S. Boone, Shareholder
Email Address jboone@friedman-lawyers.com
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