Personal Jurisdiction in a North Carolina Aircraft Accident Case

planeIn a recent North Carolina appellate decision, an aircraft company appealed from a denial of its motion to dismiss. The plaintiff was the executor of a couple’s estates. He sued the aircraft company as well as four other companies. Two of the defendants were North Carolina corporations, known as the AirCare defendants.

The case arose when the couple was flying in an aircraft piloted by the wife. The engine lost oil pressure and failed to make power, and then it lost power. The aircraft went through a forced landing, in which it crashed into trees and caught fire. The couple was killed. According to the complaint, the engine was defective, but this was not detected by the decedents before they took off, and the engine suffered from starvation of oil to its rotating components.

The other defendants, known as the CMI defendants, and an aircraft company had supplied parts to be installed during the maintenance of the aircraft by the AirCare defendants. These parts included a starter adapter gear, which could result in this type of failure if it was improperly installed. The plaintiff sued on the basis of negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, strict liability, and negligent misrepresentation against various combinations of the parties.

One of the aircraft companies filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied. The court found that the decedents were residents of the state, and the aircraft was registered in the state. The death also took place there. The trial court found that one AirCare defendant had installed the starter adapter it got from the defendant that filed the motion to dismiss. The defendant was located in Oklahoma and specialized in repairing aircraft parts. It had done business with AirCare for years. The trial court determined that the actions of the defendant made it appropriate for a North Carolina court to exercise jurisdiction over it. It concluded that the aircraft company contacted North Carolina through the goods it sold and shipped there, and the goods in question here were causally related to the deaths of two North Carolina residents within the state.

The company appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in denying the company’s motion to dismiss on the basis that it lacked personal jurisdiction. On appeal, the aircraft company argued the trial court had applied improper standards. The appellate court explained that since the company didn’t challenge the trial court’s factual findings, they were binding on appeal.

To determine whether North Carolina can exercise personal jurisdiction over a company that’s not based in the state, the court looks at two things. First, the lawsuit has to be authorized by the long-arm statute. In this case, the trial court determined jurisdiction was appropriate because the out-of-state defendant had shipped a starter adapter into the state through a common carrier. Second, if the long-arm statute allowed the court to consider the lawsuit, the exercise of jurisdiction couldn’t violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Due process requires the defendant to have minimum contacts with the state, such that fair play and substantial justice would be fulfilled.

There are sufficient minimum contacts when there is either specific jurisdiction or general jurisdiction. The former exists if the dispute arises out of a defendant’s contacts with the state. The latter exists even if the lawsuit is unrelated to the defendant’s actions in the state as long as there are continuous, systematic contacts with the state.

In this case, the lower court found there was specific jurisdiction. The appellate court agreed, explaining North Carolina had a manifest interest in giving the plaintiff a convenient forum within which to redress injuries. Nothing showed it would be better to litigate in another state. Accordingly, it affirmed the order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

If you or your child suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of another party, the experienced North Carolina personal injury attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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