Change of Venue in Case Arising from Sunken Ship Transferred to Federal District Court in Massachusetts

In a Massachusetts wrongful death suit seeking compensation for the death of a loved one, a claim must be filed in a court with appropriate jurisdiction and venue over the matter. Generally speaking, venue in a personal injury or wrongful death case can be found in the county and state in which the accident happened.

Sometimes, however, a matter is more complicated, such as when the federal courts have either concurrent or exclusive jurisdiction over a particular claim. In such a situation, if suit is filed in an inappropriate or inconvenient forum it may be possible to have the case transferred to the appropriate federal court.

Facts of the Case

In a federal district court case originally filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, the plaintiffs were the owners of a commercial fishing vessel that was lost at sea during a clamming voyage that departed from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, in early December 2017. Two crew members perished during voyage, and representatives of their estates sought to file claims against the owners of the vessel. The vessel owners’ suit sought exoneration from or limitation as to liability based upon the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501 et seq. The federal district court in New Jersey entered an order admonishing all persons with claims arising from the sinking of the plaintiffs’ vessel to file such claims by a certain deadline.

The representatives of the decedents’ estates filed a letter with the court, which the court interpreted as a request for a pre-motion conference regarding a motion to transfer venue. After a telephone conference between the parties, the court ordered the plaintiffs to show cause why the matter should not be transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts pursuant to Supplemental Admiralty and Maritime Claims Rule F(9).

Decision of the New Jersey Federal District Court

The New Jersey federal district court ordered that the matter be transferred to the federal district court in Massachusetts and that the representatives of the estates be given additional time to file their claims. In so holding, the New Jersey court noted that ultimate issue in the case was whether there was an act of negligence or a condition of unseaworthiness to which the owners had knowledge or privy.

Because the sinking of the ship occurred off the coast of Massachusetts, the claimants had no connection to New Jersey, the plaintiffs had strong connections to Massachusetts, the great majority of the witnesses resided in Massachusetts, and the investigation of the events underlying the suit were being conducted by the Coast Guard in Massachusetts, the court found that a change of venue was warranted. In the court’s opinion, these factors substantially outweighed the case’s sole connection to New Jersey, which was one of the owners’ incorporation in that state.

Schedule a Consultation Regarding a Possible Massachusetts Wrongful Death Claim

If you have recently lost a loved one and are wondering whether wrongful death action may lie against the person or business that caused your loved one’s death, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys will be glad to schedule a free consultation so that you can learn more about your legal rights. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule an appointment in our Hyannis or Plymouth offices.

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