Maybe – the Court must consider a 4-prong test to determine whether the equities (i.e. fairness) favor keeping your case in a Florida courtroom. This test is commonly referred to among attorneys as the Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens. The Forum Non Conveniens test is best discussed in the 1996 Florida Supreme Court case of Kinney Sys. v. Cont’l Ins. Co., 674 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 1996). As is described in Kinney, there is a “strong” presumption against disturbing the Plaintiff’s choice of forum. Therefore, if a Florida Plaintiff files a lawsuit in a Florida courtroom, the burden of proof then shifts to the at-fault Defendant to argue why fairness favors keeping the case in the foreign state/forum. To accomplish this, the at-fault Defendant must satisfy the following 4-prongs:
- Adequate Forum in Another State;
- Private Interests;
- Public Interests; and
- Prejudice, or Undue Inconvenience.
Typically, in the scenario of being on vacation in another U.S. state, but residing in Florida, the first prong is met, as either forum could be adequate. This may change depending on where the accident takes place, however. In the author’s experience, the Court most commonly focuses on the 2nd prong, which could be the most important inquiry. In the case of an out-of-state injured claimant living in Florida, the Court will examine a wide spectrum of factors, which are not all-inclusive. In a recent case I handled, several factors I argued were access to evidence, witnesses, availability of the premises, resources of the parties, and costs, all of which fell within and affected “private interests.” However, as I mentioned earlier, there are many more factors that could apply to this prong, depending on the fact pattern.
In many cases, the Court may find that the 2nd prong factors do not favor either party, but rather the factors are in “equipoise,” or equal. In this scenario, the Kinney case makes it clear that the Plaintiff’s choice of forum must not be disturbed. This is what occurred in my recent Hearing, and the Court did not bother considering the 3rd and 4th prong, as it was not necessary. I should also mention that the Court DENIED Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss based on Forum Non Conveniens, almost solely because of the factors that fell within the 2nd prong. That was a huge relief for our clients who live and reside in Florida. In other cases, however, if the at-fault party Defendant overcomes the 1st and 2nd prongs, the Court would be required to examine the 3rd and 4th prongs to determine if the Defendant met their burden of proof.
Why is this important, and why should this matter to you? Litigating a case in a foreign forum is extremely expensive, stressful, time-consuming, and can possibly prejudice your case. Litigating a case in your home State of Florida is quite the opposite: medical treatment in Florida, residency in Florida, legal counsel in Florida, before-and-after witnesses in Florida, Florida judges, Florida jury, and taxes paid to Florida to provide for Floridian court access.
Therefore, if you are in an accident in a foreign State or foreign country, contact our law Office immediately for a free legal consultation that will examine your unique fact pattern. We understand the equities that favor keeping your case in Florida, and we will fight for you and your family.
-Brandon D. Smith, Esq.