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Transportation Cases to Watch in 2021

Law360

03 Jan 2021

Grant Esposito and Brian Matsui spoke to Law360 about a pair of cases examining whether Ford Motor Co. can be sued in Montana and Minnesota over accidents involving used cars with purportedly defective tires or airbags for an article covering the court battles that transportation attorneys are watching in 2021.

“At minimum, the Ford cases show that the Supreme Court remains interested in policing expansive state court exercises of personal jurisdiction, particularly when lower courts subject nonresidents to specific personal jurisdiction where they have little, if any, suit-related connections to the forum,” Grant said. “Over the past decade, the Supreme Court has reviewed case after case – reversing the lower court every time in unanimous or near-unanimous decisions.”

Brian added that a ruling for defendants finding no personal jurisdiction, “could be a very big deal – as it might require that the specific article (here, a truck) that is at issue in the lawsuit be sold in the state trying to exercise jurisdiction,” but on the other hand, the plaintiffs have argued for narrow ways to win.

“They say that it’s enough that the same model of truck is marketed and sold in the state, even if the particular truck at issue wasn’t,” Brian added. “A win for the plaintiffs in Ford might not be very expansive, because defendants still could avoid personal jurisdiction by not marketing or selling certain models in state.”

But the Ford case may set up the next big case – the one the Supreme Court hasn’t yet had an opportunity to really opine on in its run of recent personal jurisdiction cases, Brian said, and that concerns, “what meets the purposeful availment requirement – that is, how much or little does a defendant need to target the forum state with its products, especially in the internet age.”

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