The Alabama Supreme Court recently issued another opinion finding the interest of justice requires transfer of an action from a county with little, if any, connection to the action, to the county with a strong connection.
In Ex parte Tyson Chicken, Inc., the plaintiff collided with a tractor-trailer driven by an employee of Tyson Chicken, Inc. (“Tyson”). The collision occurred in Cullman County. Emergency responders, including state troopers and medical personnel, investigated the accident, treated the plaintiff at the scene and transported her to a medical center in Cullman County. The plaintiff sued Tyson and its driver in Marshall County, alleging wantonness, negligence, and negligent and/or wanton training, supervision, hiring, retention and entrustment. Tyson and the driver moved for a change of venue to the Cullman County Circuit Court under Alabama’s forum non conveniens statute, Ala. Code 1975, Section 6-3-21.1. After the trial court denied the motion, Tyson and their driver petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, Tyson and its driver conceded venue was proper in Marshall County, but alleged that the action should be transferred to Cullman County under, among other things, the “interest of justice” prong of Section 6-3-21.1. The Court explained that the interest of justice prong requires the transfer of an action from a county with little, if any, connection to the action, to the county with a strong connection to the action. The Court also noted that it has held that litigation should generally be handled in the forum where the injury occurred. The Court found the following factors to be significant in evaluating the propriety of a transfer of venue: 1) the accident occurred in Cullman County; 2) the accident was investigated in Cullman County; 3) the plaintiff was treated at the scene of the accident by EMTs based in Cullman County; 4) the plaintiff was transported to a Cullman County medical facility for subsequent treatment; 5) Tyson maintains a facility in Cullman County where its truck was registered; and 6) the plaintiff was employed in Cullman County and owned a house there. The defendants further pointed out that unusual terrain near the scene of the accident may have contributed to the accident and that viewing the scene might aid the finder of fact in making a determination, and that the Tyson driver’s employment records were located in Cullman County. This was so even though the driver was employed at a Tyson facility located in Marshall County. The Court noted that Marshall County was not Tyson’s principal place of business in Alabama. In light of these factors, the Supreme Court concluded the citizens of Cullman County had much more of an interest in the outcome of the case than those in Marshall County and, in looking at the elements the plaintiff must prove to prevail, a substantial amount of the evidence accumulated in Cullman County. The Supreme Court ultimately found although Marshall County was “not devoid of any connection to the parties, the citizens of Marshall County would have very little interest in the outcome.”
Litigants are likely to continue filing suit in the venue they believe will be most favorable, and strenuously oppose any efforts by the defense to seek transfer to another forum. But this decision from the Alabama Supreme Court once again reinforces the general rule that venue for a case involving injuries sustained in an automobile accident should under most circumstances be in the county where the collision occurred and was investigated.