Appeals judges say helicopter claims are issue for Turkish courts
PHOENIX -- Just because a helicopter was manufactured in this state doesn't mean the survivors of those killed in a crash in Turkey can sue the company here, the Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled.
The judges acknowledged that some of the evidence for the lawsuit is located in Arizona. That includes not only technical records about the helicopter but also that MD Helicopters provided pilot and maintenance training in Arizona.
But they concluded that other factors had more weight.
Court records show that in 2004 MD Helicopters in Mesa delivered an aircraft to the Turkish National Police in Turkey. The firm continued to provide customer support to the police agency, including the pilot and maintenance training.
Nearly two years later, while being operated by Turkish National Police personnel in Turkey, the helicopter crashed into the ground, causing the death of everyone on board.
Survivors filed suit, alleging product defect, negligence and breach of warranty.
The company sought dismissal, with its attorneys arguing that "Arizona has almost no connection to this lawsuit' and that the "accident wreckage, aircraft records, and accident witnesses are all believed to be located in Turkey in the custody of the TNP.' The firm also said it would submit to the jurisdiction of courts in Turkey and waive any claim that the lawsuit in that country was not filed on time.
That concession is significant in the helicopter company getting its way. Refusal to allow the case to go forward in Turkey could have convinced the appellate judges that left Arizona as the only place for the case to be heard.
In their response, the lawyers for the survivors pointed out not only the location of manufacture but that the pilot was trained at the MD Helicopter facility about one month before the crash. They also argued that most of the documentary evidence and witnesses they needed to prove their case were located in Arizona.
Appellate Judge Philip Hall said there is generally a strong presumption in favor of the choice of the plaintiff of where to sue. But he said that presumption gets less weight because the plaintiffs all are Turkish citizens.
Hall said, though, that a defendant seeking to move a case still has the burden of providing there is an available and alternative legal forum and that "on balance, the alternative forum is the more convenient place to litigate the case.'
In this case, the judge said, the ownership of the helicopter, the location of the crash and the fact that all the dead were Turkish citizens or residents weighs heavily.
"Turkey has a substantial connection and interest in the case,' Hall wrote. "In contrast, Arizona's connection to the matter is much weaker.'
Hall also pointed out that, wherever the case is heard, it likely will be governed by Turkish laws on wrongful death.
"Requiring the trial court to interpret and apply Turkish law would present a substantial burden on the court,' the judge wrote. It also would require that relevant materials be translated into English.