State Supreme Court OKs NJ as Venue for South African Accident Case

The State Supreme Court recently upheld a lower court decision by ruling that New Jersey was an appropriate venue for hearing a personal injury lawsuit concerning a South African motor vehicle accident involving U.S. citizens. (1)

The accident, which occurred in September 2006 about 75 miles southwest of Johannesburg, involved three U.S. citizens: David Edmonds, an employee of General Dynamics-Ordinance and Tactical Systems, Inc., and resident of Florida; and two New Jersey residents, Amin Yousef and Crane Robinson, both civilian employees of the U.S. Army. According to reports, Edmonds was driving a rented van in which Yousef and Robinson were passengers, when he allegedly ran a stop sign and crashed into another vehicle. (2)

Robinson required surgery in South Africa as a result of the accident and was later treated for leg and neck injuries when he returned to the U.S. Yousef, who was thrown from the vehicle, suffered severe head trauma. He was treated in South Africa for a month before returning to the U.S., where he continued to receive treatment for brain injuries for years. He is now legally blind, suffers cognitive and speech damages and is confined to a wheelchair. (2)

The extent of Yousef’s injuries played a large part in the Court’s ruling that the case could be heard in the U.S. Because Yousef was an employee of the U.S. Army, the case could be heard in any U.S. court. New Jersey was chosen because of his residency. (3)

The State Supreme Court ruled that any interests South Africa may have in the outcome of the trial could be satisfied in New Jersey. The Court further ruled that records of any medical treatment the plaintiffs received while in South Africa could be obtained for use in trial here. On the other hand, the Court noted, the extent of Yousef’s injuries prohibit him from returning to South Africa for a trial. (3)

Another factor considered by the Court was that in South Africa liability cases are considered by a judge instead of a jury, as is done in New Jersey. Should the jury find that the South African municipality where the accident occurred was even partially responsible, it could assign damages to that municipality, decreasing the disadvantages to the defendants in this case. (1)

The trial will be heard in Superior Court in Hackensack. (2)

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202489645291&NJ_Court_May_Try_Injury_Suit_Arising_From_Auto_Accident_in_South_Africa
(2) http://www.northjersey.com/news/crime_courts/041111_Supreme_Court_Suit_against_Floridian_over_South_Africa_car_crash_belongs_in_Bergen_County.html

(3) http://www.law.com/jsp/law/international/LawArticleIntl.jsp?id=1202474010582