This week's case review looks briefly at a recent decision from the Washington Court of Appeals, Division 3, related to when a Washington court may have “personal jurisdiction” over a non-resident company for purposes of a tort lawsuit. Specifically, the case of Downing v. Losvar, 507 P.3rd 894 (April 14, 2022).
The estate of an airplane passenger brought an action in Okanogan County, Washington, for injuries and wrongful death against the estate of the downed aircraft pilot, alleging that the airplane, a four-seat light piston engine aircraft, crashed due to pilot error and failure to maintain the aircraft. The plane's crash killed both the pilot and the passenger. As the litigation progressed, the passenger's estate added the airplane manufacturer's successor corporation (Textron Aviation Inc., acquirer of Cessna Aircraft Company) into the lawsuit as an additional defendant, alleging claims of negligence, violation of the Washington product liability law, strict liability, and breach of warranty. The pilot's estate cross-claimed against the successor corporation, alleging the same causes of action. The successor corporation, which was headquartered in Kansas, then moved to dismiss the actions against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Superior Court in Okanogan County denied the motion. The successor corporation petitioned for discretionary review to the Washington Court of Appeals, Division 3.
The Court of Appeals held that, by conduct such as occasionally mailing service notices and bulletins to its Cessna owners in Washington and advertising on its website its “global support” of its products, the successor corporation had purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the state of Washington for purposes of establishing personal jurisdiction; that the actions against it in the instant case arose out of or related to the successor corporation's contacts with Washington for purposes of establishing personal jurisdiction; and that here the Washington court's assertion of personal jurisdiction comported with concepts of fair play and substantial justice necessary to avoid a successful in personam jurisdictional challenge under the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The trial court's denial of the motion to dismiss was thus affirmed. This case is noteworthy especially for its excellent detail in discussing the principles pertinent to analysis of the “personal jurisdiction” question which often arises in tort litigation.