As any experienced litigation attorney will explain, more often than not there will be a choice of courts in which to bring a lawsuit you may be contemplating.  Among attorneys, this is known as choosing a “venue.”

Often the venue choice will be between state courts in different counties.  Other times, it may be a matter of choosing to bring the case in either a state or a federal court.

Experienced attorneys fully realize that the choice of “venue” at the very beginning of a case can, in and of itself, spell the difference between  great, or merely modest, success,  and at times it can even mean the difference between success and complete failure!

In 2004 a disabled passenger fell down a flight of stairs while disembarking from a commuter airline (Elasaad v. Independence Air) in Philadelphia.   The lawsuit was brought in the state court.  The state court ruled that federal law applied.   Since federal law requires that a disabled passenger must request assistance before the airline is obligated to lend assistance, and the passenger in this case failed to request assistance, the case was dismissed by the state judge.

Since appeals are both time consuming and costly, pursuing an appeal from a court decision is not a frequent event.In this case however, an appeal found its way to the Federal Court of Appeals which reversed the state court decision.  The Federal Appeals Court found that while federal rules do apply while the plane is in flight, state laws may apply while passengers are disembarking. Federal law did not pre-empt state law in such a situation. The case, originally brought by the Plaintiff in state court, may stay in state court and state law may apply. Since state law does not require a prior request for assistance to an airline by a disabled passenger, before the airline becomes responsible, the passenger was victorious.

While the attorneys in this matter certainly chose the correct court originally in which to bring this lawsuit, it was the original court that got the law wrong!  The diligence of the Plaintiff’s attorneys corrected that mistake.  Future attorneys will take note of this case.  Those attorneys that keep track of cases as they develop (which is essential for any competent, experienced attorney), will be aware that the choice of venue in cases of this nature will be the state, and not federal, court.

“Forum shopping” extends beyond issues of conflicting laws.  Often it concerns itself with more subtle issues.  We will touch on this subject in another posting.