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Where can the victim of an interstate truck or bus crash file suit?

When there is a catastrophic crash involving an interstate commercial motor vehicle, there can be a broad range of places to consider filing suit. The usual state rules strictly limiting venue options are preempted by the federal Motor Carrier Act which provides:

A motor carrier or broker providing transportation … shall designate an agent in each State in which it operates by name and post office address on whom process issued by a court with subject matter jurisdiction may be served in an action brought against that carrier or broker. 49 U.S.C.A. § 13304(a).

This enables courts to obtain personal jurisdiction over an interstate motor carrier in states where the carrier may or may not do business, but in which it has a registered agent, for incidents occurring in a third state. McKamey, 744 A.2d at 532 n. 14 (citing cases).

By designating an agent in another state pursuant to the Motor Carrier Act, a corporation undertakes a “voluntary, reasoned act,” acknowledging that it may be sued in that state as a result of its interstate commercial enterprise-irrespective of where it may have committed the tort at issue. See Leonard v. USA Petroleum Corp., 829 F.Supp. 882, 886 (S.D.Tex.1993); Chick v. C & F Enterprises, LLC, 938 A.2d 112 (NH 2007).

A wide variety of strategic and tactical factors may come into consideration, including differences in substantive, evidentiary and procedural rules in various states, location of other potential defendants such as brokers and shippers, availability of witnesses and quality of the courts. These may be the possibility of a motion to dismiss or transfer a case based upon the doctrine of forum non conveniens. However, consideration of venue options may be far broader than most lawyers recognize.

Thanks to my friend Morgan Adams in Chattanooga for pointing this out to me.

Ken Shigley is immediate past president of the State Bar of Georgia, chair of the board of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia and secretary of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle, Highway and Premises Liability Section. He is a board member of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group and has been on the faculty of trucking litigation seminars from coast to coast. Mr. Shigley is double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the American Board of Legal Specialty Certification (formerly National Board of Trial Advocacy), has an AV Preeminent rating in Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, is listed as a “Super Lawyer” by Atlanta Magazine and “Legal Elite” by Georgia Trend, and is the lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (West, 2010-12).

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