The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s decision in Ehmer v. Maxim Crane Works, L.P., 296 A.3d 1202 (Pa. Super. 2023), will make it easier for plaintiffs to keep their cases in the county of their choosing. Mr. Ehmer, a resident of Berwick, Columbia County, sued Maxim Crane Works in Philadelphia County for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident that happened in Columbia County. Maxim Crane Works is a Kentucky Corporation that is registered to conduct business in Pennsylvania, with a corporate office in Allegheny County. Maxim asked the trial Court to transfer the case to Columbia County based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, which means Maxim argued that Columbia County was a more convenient forum. The trial court transferred the case and Mr. Ehmer appealed that decision to the Superior Court. The Superior Court reversed the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to Philadelphia County.
Why Did the Superior Court Reverse the Decision?
The Superior Court determined that the trial court should not have transferred the case on the basis that Philadelphia posed a hardship to certain witnesses without first determining that those witnesses were “key” witnesses that possessed testimony relevant to the defense. The Superior Court also determined that the trial court was wrong for transferring the case on the basis that a site visit of the accident location in Columbia County was necessary. An important factor in the Court’s decision was the widespread use and relative ease of use of modern technology. Specifically, the Court reasoned that that photographs, videos or even a webcast of the site would provide ample opportunity to view the site of the accident. Similarly, because technology allows for quick and easy transfer of medical records, the location of the plaintiff’s medical records was not a factor that would warrant transferring the case.
Defendants have the burden to show that the chosen forum is “oppressive,” not merely inconvenient. With many depositions of witnesses being conducted through videoconferencing services such as Zoom, it is difficult for a defendant to meet its burden of demonstrating that the chosen county is oppressive. Modern technology has closed the geographical gap and made it much easier for lawyers and witnesses to meet over Zoom and to review documents remotely from locations near and far.
How This Decision Impacts Medical Malpractice Victims
This decision is particularly important for Pennsylvania medical malpractice victims. Until recently, medical malpractice cases were subject to a unique set of restrictive rules that limited where a case could be filed. In January 2023, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court revoked those rules, so medical malpractice victims may now sue a negligent healthcare provider in any county where the defendant regularly does business or has contacts, just like any other injured plaintiff. Now, the Ehmer decision will make it easier for plaintiffs to keep cases in their chosen county.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice and you have questions about where the lawsuit may be filed, contact the experienced Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Youman & Caputo for a free consultation and they can discuss your options with you.