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.

In reaching this decision, the court rejected the joint tenancy rule, established by its 1957 ruling in Enfinger v. Baxley, in which it found that venue based on residence in an action against corporate and individual defendants can only lie in a county in which both the corporate and individual defendants reside. “[T]he joint residency rule of Enfinger is based on a serious interpretative error,” the court held, finding that the rule conflicted with the clear language of Section 47.021.

“Where there are multiple defendants to an action, a plaintiff may choose as venue any county in which any defendant, without consideration of his or her codefendants, may be considered a resident,” the court concluded.

A car or truck accident can have devastating consequences for the victim, as well as his or her family and friends. The physical and emotional pain and suffering, long hospital stays, medical expenses and significant time off from work can take a huge toll on everyone involved. The South Florida accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine draw on the knowledge and skill of a full team of personal injury lawyers, medical/legal support experts and investigators who are ready to represent you in and out of the courtroom. If you’ve been injured in an accident, call toll-free at 800-747-3733 or submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney.

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