NO ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DISMISSING SLIP AND FALL CASE THAT OCCURRED IN A HOTEL ROOM IN JAMAICA, ON FORUM NON CONVENIENS GROUNDS
Brown v. Visit Us, Inc., 46 Fla. L. Weekly D711 (Fla. 3d DCA March 31, 2021):
The case begins by explaining how it presents an example of “the unusual circumstance in which a lawsuit against a defendant domiciled in the plaintiff’s chosen forum may nevertheless be dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds.” A rough start to be sure.
The plaintiff – a resident of Texas – fell on a liquid that was leaking from the ceiling in her Jamaican hotel room. The plaintiffs sued two corporations, one domiciled in Spain and one domiciled in Florida, with its principal place of business in Miami-Dade County. The plaintiffs alleged vicarious liability against the Florida corporation based on a joint venture with the hotel involving ownership and operation of the Jamaican resort.
Based on the uncontroverted affidavit of its general manager, the Florida corporation was an affiliate of the Spanish corporation that managed a travel-booking website for the Spanish corporation’s branded resorts. Notably, the plaintiffs did not book their hotel stay through the Florida corporation’s website.
The Florida corporation Defendant, Visit Us, moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint, asserting the proper venue was in Jamaica because the alleged negligence took place there, the initial medical treatment occurred there, and a potential third-party defendant – the hotel’s air conditioning contractor – was there. The defendant argued that all or substantially all of the evidence and witnesses regarding liability were in Jamaica, and that Jamaican law would govern the issues of negligence and damages. Finally, defendant argued that if the action proceeded in Florida, it would not be able to interplead the Jamaican air conditioning contractor due to lack of personal jurisdiction.
In response, plaintiffs submitted an affidavit stating that the victim’s substantive medical treatment occurred in Texas, her medical providers and primary treating physicians were in Texas, and she had no means to compel them to travel to Jamaica, further claiming that the only witness to the fall, and condition of the floor, were her husband and herself.
In doing the Kinney forum non conveniens analysis, the court stated that the fact that the defendants were located in the US and in Florida, was one indication that it would be less burdensome for them to defend in the United States than it would be for the plaintiffs to litigate in a foreign country.
However, even when considering the defendant’s residency in Florida, the court found that in weighing the public and private interest factors, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the case for forum non conveniens. The plaintiffs alleged a joint venture to operate a hotel in Jamaica, the plaintiff received initial medical treatment there, and an alleged third-party defendant was answerable only to the jurisdiction of the courts of Jamaica.
Further, since the plaintiffs did not book their vacation with the defendant, no action in the case occurred in Florida. There were no witnesses to the alleged fall or the plaintiffs’ damages connected to Florida. While the plaintiff argued that her Texas based doctors could not appear in Jamaica, the court noted that they could not be compelled to come to Florida either, so the private interest factors strongly weighed in favor of Jamaica.
The public interest factors also weighed strongly in favor of Jamaica because Jamaica has a strong interest in litigating disputes involving its resorts,and the plaintiffs were not Florida residents, which was an important point.