Federal District Court in Massachusetts Is Called Upon to Determine Proper Forum for Cross-Claims in Products Liability Lawsuit

In a Cape Cod products liability case, there are likely to be several defendants. This is because several different parties in the chain of distribution – from the manufacturer to the wholesale distributor to the retailer – can potentially be liable to the plaintiff.

While it might seem simpler to name only a single defendant, this is rarely wise. Naming multiple defendants can help ensure that the plaintiff ultimately receives what he or she is due if there is a favorable judgment, even if one or more of the defendants proves to be insolvent or has limited resources for satisfying the plaintiff’s claim.

When there are several defendants, each of whom could potentially be held liable for a plaintiff’s personal injuries, it is not unusual for there to be cross-claims between the defendants as each attempts to limit its own monetary outlay to the plaintiff. Experienced product injury lawyers are well-acquainted with these tactics and understand that this “infighting” between the defendants cannot stand in the way of the injured party’s quest for justice.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent products liability lawsuit was a man who allegedly suffered serious injuries to his hand after his foot inadvertently activated a switch on an allegedly defective machine designed, manufactured, and distributed by the defendants. The man’s wife joined him in the suit as a co-plaintiff. According to their complaint, the defendants were liable to them under several legal theories, including negligence, breach of warranty, loss of consortium, and violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 93A.

The defendant distributor filed a cross-claim against the defendant designer/manufacturer, asserting claims for indemnification, contribution, and breach of contract. The designer/manufacturer responded with a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), arguing that, based on a forum selection and choice of law clause contained in a 1998 “written exclusive distribution agreement” between the defendants, the distributor’s claims against the designer/manufacturer should have been filed in Germany rather than in a United States federal district court.

The Court’s Decision

The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted the designer/manufacturer’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in part and denied it in part. According to the court, the cross-claims pertaining to contractual and common law indemnification and for breach of contract had to be filed in Germany, per the defendants’ previous agreement. The contribution-from-a-joint-tortfeasor claim was, however, held to be properly before the United States federal district court.

In so holding, the court examined whether the agreement at issue was permissive or mandatory. After determining that it was mandatory due to the use of the word “shall,” the court went on to address the designer/manufacturer’s assertion regarding whether the forum selection clause was so broad as to include the common law and contract-based cross-claims at issue. The court then reviewed the relevant language in the agreement, which stated, “All disputes which may arise in connection with this agreement” were to be decided in Germany.

Because the agreement governed the distribution of the machinery upon which the plaintiff was allegedly injured, the court found that the distributor’s cross-claims “easily [fell]” within the forum selection clause because they arose “in connection with” the agreement; thus, the indemnification and breach of contract claims should be resolved by a German court. With respect to the distributor’s contribution claim, however, the federal district court opined that this claim could be – and should be – effectively resolved by the United States federal district court jury, who would be called upon to decide whether the defendants were liable to the plaintiffs as either a joint tortfeasors or as a sole tortfeasor.

Need Help with a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Products can be held unreasonably dangerous or defective for many different reasons – poor design, construction defects, improper labeling, etc. An experienced Cape Cod products liability attorney can help you understand these different types of claims and file suit against the various defendants who can be held liable in such a situation. To learn more about our services, call The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664 or contact us through this website. Please do not delay in seeking legal counsel regarding your defective product claim, as numerous statutes of limitation and/or statutes of repose may limit the time you have for filing suit against the responsible designer, maker, distributor, or seller of the product that injured you or your loved one.

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