A federal appeals court has dismissed the bulk of a $100 million tort suit against Cessna Aircraft Co., represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, on the ground that Italian courts have jurisdiction.
Gibson, Dunn partner Miguel Estrada, co-chair of the firm's appellate and constitutional law practice group, argued for Cessna in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which ruled per curiam on Friday to uphold dismissal of 69 of 70 plaintiffs. The panel judges were Joel Dubina, Susan Black, and Peter Fay. “This was a challenging and satisfying case where the courts reached the legally correct result,” Estrada says in an e-mail to Legal Times.
The complaint, brought by families of the victims of an airplane crash in Milan, Italy, in 2001, was filed March 2003 in federal district court in Miami. The one plaintiff left in the U.S. case is the family of the single U.S. citizen killed in the crash between the private Cessna plane and a Scandanavian Airlines jet. The Cessna and the jet collided on a runway.
On the district level, the trial judge held a two-day hearing to determine the applicability of Italian law. Estrada says it was his first experience learning Italian law—a bit “more fun,” he says, than learning Kazakh law for an unrelated case.
In ordering that Cessna submit to jurisdiction in Italy for the 69 European victims, the 11th Circuit found Italian courts have addressed similar cases and Italian law provides the plaintiffs with remedies comparable to those available under U.S. law. The court also noted that most of the evidence in the case is in Italy.
“Echoing the district judge’s sentiments, we are extremely sympathetic to those affected by this tragic airplane crash,” the appeals court wrote. “Still, our sympathy for the victims and their families cannot alter our conclusion” that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the European plaintiffs’ complaint.
Joel Eaton, a partner with Podhurst Orseck in Miami, which represents the family of the U.S. citizen killed in the crash, says the firm is considering its options. Eaton says the case is not over.