Massachusetts Was More Convenient Forum in Federal Case Involving Grocery Store Slip and Fall

Ideally, the outcome of a Cape Cod premises liability or personal injury case would be the same regardless of whether it went to trial in a state court or a federal court, before a jury or just a judge, or in the city or in a small town. Justice is justice, right?

Unfortunately, the court system is far from perfect, and there can be differences in the outcome of a given case based on these and other factors. Because of this, the plaintiff in a case may choose to file his case in one venue rather than another – if there is a potential choice about such matters, given the facts. Defendants, too, sometime engage in “forum shopping” of sorts by seeking removal of a state case to federal court or transferal of a federal case from one district to another.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent slip and fall negligence case was a man who alleged that he was injured when he slipped on a “wet, dangerous, and hazardous condition” located on the floor of a Massachusetts grocery store. He filed suit against the defendant store owners in a New Jersey state court in late 2019, seeking fair compensation for his medical expenses and associated damages resulting from the fall. The defendants removed the case to a federal court located in New Jersey based on diversity of citizenship.

The defendants filed a motion in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking transferal of the plaintiff’s case to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Alternatively, the defendant asked the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit under the forum non conveniens (inconvenient forum) doctrine. The plaintiff opposed the defendants’ motion on the grounds that there was no jurisdiction in federal court and that, thus, the matter should be returned to the New Jersey state court in which it was initially filed.

The Court’s Decision

The federal district court in New Jersey granted the defendants’ motion to transfer the case to the federal district court in Massachusetts. Although the plaintiff insisted that both federal courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the amount in controversy did not meet the jurisdictional requirements, the court opined that neither the plaintiff’s pre-litigation demand nor the defendants’ pre-litigation offers had any bearing on the “amount in controversy” question. After all, the court reasoned, settlement offers made prior to the filing of a lawsuit merely reflected the parties’ conception of potential compromises of the claim, not the actual outcome. Once the matter proceeded to trial, such offers would not be controlling on the jury in assessing damages.

After deciding that the federal courts had jurisdiction, the court went on to consider whether a transfer from New Jersey to Massachusetts was in order. The plaintiff averred that he was a “dual resident” of both states. Given that the accident at issue occurred in Massachusetts, most (if not all) of the witnesses to the accident resided in Massachusetts, and all of the records related to the accident (including the plaintiff’s medical records) were located in Massachusetts, the court found that both the public interests or the private interests of the defendants and witnesses to litigate the matter in Massachusetts outweighed the plaintiff’s preference to present his case in New Jersey.

Speak to a Cape Cod Lawyer

A trip to pick up essentials like groceries should not end with a slip and fall accident, possibly requiring an emergency room visit or months of medical care. Shops, restaurants, and other places of businesses owe the public certain duties to keep their premises safe for those who come to do business. If you have been hurt due to the negligence of property owner, you should talk to a lawyer about filing a claim for damages. For an appointment to discuss your situations with an experienced Cape Cod premises liability attorney, please phone the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, today at 888-262-6664. There is no charge for the consultation, and you are under no obligation, should you decide not to pursue litigation against the negligent party after speaking with us.

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