Florida Supreme Court Overturns Joint Defendant Rule in Truck-Train Accident Case - Brown v. Nagelhout
A Florida car accident lawsuit can involve a number of complex issues, including some related not to who's at fault, but which court should make that decision. In Brown v. Nagelhout, Florida's Supreme Court overturns the so-called "joint defendant rule," finding that a person injured in an accident can sue in any county in which any of the defendants reside.
Plaintiff Willie Brown was injured when the CSX train on which he was riding as a passenger collided with a truck owned by Helena Chemical and driven by Kim Nagelhout in Pasco County. He filed a personal injury lawsuit against Helena, Nagelhout and CSX in Broward County, where Brown resides. In response, Defendants filed a motion to transfer the matter to Pasco County court.
The county court granted Defendants' motion to transfer, finding that Pasco County was the proper venue for the suit because both Helena Chemical and Nagelhout reside there. The state's Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed this decision.
On further appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the decision, finding that it was based on a misinterpretation of the state's venue law. Generally, the court explained, a lawsuit may be brought "only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located." Where the action involves multiple defendants, Section 47.021, Florida Statutes (2011), provides that a plaintiff may bring an action "in any county in which any defendant resides." A Florida corporation's residence is determined by the location of its offices, while a foreign corporation may also be sued in the county where its registered agent is located.
In this case, Nagelhout resides in Pasco County, while Helena is a foreign company doing business in Florida with Pasco County offices and a Broward County registered agent. The court found that it was unclear whether CSX was a foreign or domestic company, but noted that it had Duval County offices and a Leon County registered agent. As a result, the court ruled that Brown could file the suit in Pasco, Broward, Duval or Leon counties.