Where Should Tourists on Vacation Sue?

Over 126 million tourists visited Florida in 2018 alone.  With more people come more opportunities for accidents to happen.  When an accident involves both an out-of-state tourist and a Floridian, it is not immediately clear where the subsequent court case should occur.  Historically, Florida is a very attractive state for filing lawsuits; Florida courts have awarded greater damages to many injured parties than other courts would have.  Consequently, many plaintiffs (injured parties) will file lawsuits in Florida should their case have any connection to Florida.

Francisco Javier Gonzalez Calvo and his family, all from Spain, were on vacation in the Dominican Republic.  His daughter went for a swim near a Dominican resort and became severely injured by a Dominican sailor. Calvo sued the boat’s pilot and manufacture, plus the Dominican resort, in — you guessed it — Florida. Only one thin thread connected the case to Florida: after her injury, Calvo’s daughter flew to Florida to receive medical treatment.  The Dominican resort successfully convinced Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals to dismiss the case on basis of “forum non conveniens,” a Latin phrase amounting to “inconvenient setting.”

Indeed, cases involving far-away accidents and entities can be very inconvenient for both parties and the state itself.  Had Florida continued with Calvo’s case, it would have needed to fly in 41 Spanish-speaking Dominican witnesses and provide a translator.  Cases like this one put financial strain on Florida’s taxpayer-funded courts, and Florida’s Supreme Court grew tired of asking Florida’s legislature for funding increases to resolve disputes and accidents occurring with little connection to Florida.  In a similar case, Florida’s Supreme Court broke its precedent and adopted a four-part test to determine whether a Florida’s courts should hold a case involving an out-of-state or foreign party:

  1. Is there another legitimate court with jurisdiction that is willing to hear this case?

If a foreign court isn’t willing to hear the case, then a Florida court may hear it despite it having little to do with Florida.  Less-developed countries may not have legal codes that allow for cases involving issues like personal injury or premises liability.  Only if the answer to this part is “yes” do we continue to part 2.

  1. Is the defendant (party being sued) substantially disadvantaged if Florida courts take this case instead of the other court from part 1?

Plaintiffs like Calvo file lawsuits in Florida in hopes of receiving greater damages than they would in other jurisdictions. This practice of choosing the court system where you have the best odds is known as “forum shopping.”  To decrease the forum shoppers’ burden to Florida’s legal system, if the answer to this part is “yes,” we skip part 3 and go to part 4. Otherwise, we continue to part 3.

  1. Is it in public interest to hold the case here?

Like part 2, this part focuses on the burden cosmopolitan cases put on Florida’s courts and taxpayers.  If keeping the case gives Florida’s courts an opportunity to address issues that impact Florida at large, we answer “yes” to this part, meaning the case will stay in Florida.  Otherwise, we continue to part 4.

  1. Can the plaintiff reinstate this case in the court from part 1?

This part considers additional barriers to moving a case out of Florida.  If the statute of limitations (time limit for filing case after discovering injury) is four years in Florida, but only two years in Ecuador, and three years have passed since discovering injury, the answer to this part may be “no,” meaning Florida will keep the case.  In the Calvo case, the Dominican resort offered to fly witnesses to Spain should Calvo refile the case there, helping to secure that the answer to this part is “yes.” This allowed Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals to throw the case out on basis of “forum non conveniens.”

Cases involving tourists from outside of Florida require attorney groups, like the Vickaryous Law Firm, that understand how Florida’s laws fit into international contexts.  Contact the Vickaryous Law Firm for a free consultation.

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