Philly judge upholds decision allowing venue transfer in tractor-trailer accident case

By Jon Campisi | Nov 1, 2011

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge has upheld a venue transfer requested by the defendants in a civil suit stemming from a summer 2008 a tractor-trailer accident.

The defendants, Riverside Construction Materials, Inc., and Riverside employee and tractor-trailer operator Thomas P. Hodgkins, argued in a late July 2010 motion to transfer venue that trying the civil case in Philadelphia County would be “oppressive and vexatious” to the witnesses and defendants involved in the August 2008 accident, who all reside and/or work in neighboring Bucks County, Pa.

Additionally, the defendants argued in their motion that medical records and other materials are more easily accessible in Bucks County, which is where the accident involving the two tractor-trailers occurred.

Shawn Hamiel and his wife, Sandra Lightfoot-Hamiel, filed the civil action on June 1, 2010, stemming from an Aug. 14, 2008 accident, in which Shawn Hamiel, who was stopped in his own tractor-trailer at the base of the ramp to U.S. Route 1 southbound coming from Route 13 northbound, was struck in the rear by a tractor-trailer driven by defendant Hodgkins, who was also attempting to merge onto Route 1 southbound at the onramp.

In the lawsuit, the Hamiels accuse the defendants of various counts of negligence; Sandra Lightfoot-Hamiel also has a loss of consortium claim in the lawsuit.

On Oct. 1, 2010, the plaintiffs filed a response to the defendants’ motion to transfer venue to Bucks County, asserting the defendants did not meet their standards for transferring a case, and further maintaining that hearing the case in Philadelphia would not be “oppressive or vexatious” to the defendants.

On Oct. 13, 2010, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court denied the defendants’ motion to transfer venue, and in April of this year, the defendant’s filed a motion to reconsider.

In May, the plaintiff’s responded to the defendants’ reconsideration motion, claiming it was “untimely and alleging Defendants still had not set forth facts that tended to show the oppressive or vexatious nature of the trial in Philadelphia County.”

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge then granted the defendants’ motion for reconsideration and ordered that the case be transferred to Bucks County Common Pleas Court in May of this year.

In late May, the plaintiffs filed their own motion for reconsideration, arguing that the defendants failed to meet their burden of proof, and that the defendants’ motion “lacked merit.”

Then, in June, the defendants filed a response in opposition to the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration.

The Philadelphia court was then tasked with deciding on appeal whether it abused its discretion or committed an error of law in vacating its Oct. 13, 2010 order, and transferring the case to Bucks County.

The order last week by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Allan L. Tereshko affirmed the court’s earlier decision to allow a venue transfer to Bucks County, stating that the defendants, throughout the legal process thus far, have sufficiently showed how trying the case in Philadelphia County would be detrimental.

The order, signed on Oct. 27, states that courts have often considered the affidavits of potential witnesses as sufficient to allowing a venue transfer, and in this case, potential trial witnesses outlined in affidavits various reasons why being heard in Bucks County would be preferable.

“Defendant has specified key witnesses in this matter that would be unreasonably burdened by trial in Philadelphia County,” the ruling states.

Furthermore, Riverside’s CFO, Michael Matalavage, stated in an affidavit that only 0.46 percent of the company’s revenue in 2010 came from business conducted and/or completed in Philadelphia County.

“The affidavits submitted by Defendants demonstrate that if Riverside was required to defend this case in Philadelphia County, an overwhelming majority of its business would be negatively affected,” the ruling states.

Lastly, Defendant Thomas P. Hodgkins, in his own affidavit, pointed out that all defendants in the case live in Bucks County.

The court agreed that this was yet another reason it made more sense for the case to be tried in Bucks County and not Philadelphia.

“Here, Defendants have sufficiently stated, with facts on the record, how trial in Philadelphia County would be oppressive and vexatious,” the ruling states. “Plaintiff’s choice of forum is oppressive because easy access to sources of proof exists in Bucks County, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses is less in Bucks County and the accident occurred in a county other than the chosen forum.”

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