How Do Florida Courts Decide Venue in Tire Defect Litigation?

Venue is a common issue in tire defect litigation. Tires often fail when vehicles are traveling on highways far from where the injured parties live, where the tire was sold or where the attorneys representing the parties have offices. Defendants in defect litigation may challenge the forum selected by the plaintiff, arguing that the county where suit was originally filed is inconvenient for various reasons. This post looks at the factors courts consider when deciding venue in personal injury litigation generally as well as in tire defect litigation.

In Florida, motions to transfer venue are governed by Fla. Stat. § 47.122, which provides:

For the convenience of the parties or witnesses or in the interest of justice, any court of record may transfer any civil action to any other court of record in which it might have been brought.

Courts interpreting section 47.122 consider three statutory factors in determining whether to transfer venue: (1) the convenience of the parties; (2) the convenience of the witnesses; and (3) the interest of justice. See Hu v. Crockett, 426 So.2d 1275, 1277-78 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983). Of the three factors, convenience of the witnesses is "probably the single most important consideration" because material witnesses should be located near the court where the case is filed to allow for live testimony. Id. at 1279; see also, Ford Motor Co. v. James, 33 So.3d 91, 92 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).

In Ford Motor Co. v. James, a van crashed due to a tire failure near Lake City, Florida. One of the occupants in the van was ejected from the vehicle and died as a result of her injuries. The personal representative for the decedent's estate filed suit against Ford and several other defendants in Broward County, Florida – over 240 miles away from the scene of the accident. The defendants in James moved to transfer venue from Broward County to Columbia County, the county where the accident occurred. The trial court denied the defendants' motion to transfer and the defendants appealed. Id. at 92.

The Fourth District in James affirmed the trial court's decision not to transfer venue from Broward County to Columbia County. The court's reasoning shows how venue considerations for a tire defect case can differ from those in a traditional auto negligence suit:

Here, the material allegations of the complaint involve a potential manufacturing defect

in the tire, a design defect in the van, and negligence maintenance of the van. Thus,

the determination of liability in the present case will turn primarily on expert testimony. The testimony of the public servants who responded to the scene of the accident or the lay people who witnessed the accident is less important. Ford and Michelin have not suggested that their experts would be inconvenienced by a trial in Broward County. Id. at 93 - 94.

The plaintiff in James identified nine eyewitnesses who were in the vehicle at the time of the accident and were the only individuals who actually witnessed the accident. Also, the van involved in the accident was rented in Broward County and maintained in Dade County. Id. at 93. As other courts have recognized, the convenience of the witnesses is "probably the single most important consideration of the three statutory factors" in forum selection because material witnesses at trial should be near the selected venue so they can testify live at trial. Id. at 93, citing Hu, 426 So.2d at 1279. Forum selection was not an issue for the tire defect experts that would testify in James. This factor, combined with the location of the witnesses in the vehicle, allowed the Plaintiff's selection of Broward County to stand.