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Significant Appellate Victory on Behalf of Our Clients

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

The United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit has ruled in our client’s favor which will allow us to fight for justice in a case involving a serious maritime accident that occurred in the Paros-Antiparos Strait, which separates the islands of Paros and Antiparos, just off the Greek coast. The injuries sustained to our client were very serious and included a month-long stay in the ICU with ten broken ribs, fractures of her collarbone, shoulder blade, and sternum. She also sustained massive wounds from the propeller blade that struck her after another boat struck her smaller craft from the stern.

After being hospitalized a bit longer in Athens, she made her way home to the United States, where she was admitted to New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. There, she underwent even more surgical procedures. She has since gone through months of physical therapy. And more than a year after the shipwreck, she still required a walker to balance.

On vacation in the Greek island with her husband, our client was taking a boat ride in the Strait when another boat struck her boat from behind, destroying it in the process. Our client’s vessel was so badly damaged by the violent crash, it sunk.

We took the case up on appeal after a lower court ruled in favor of the boat owner (who was in Massachusetts at the time of the crash) concerning an issue of venue. At the time of the incident, the boat owner’s gardener was operating his boat. The defendant had argued that it would be unduly burdensome and unfair to him if he had to defend himself in the United States when the incident occurred in Greece. However, we argued that our client, the severely injured party had a right to have the case tried in the United States since both she and her husband are US citizens.

The legal issue in question which was the focal point of the appeal is known as forum non conveniens. The appellate order provided an excellent and detailed description of the circumstances surrounding the accident as well as the legal principle at issue.

According to the Legal Information Institute from Cornell Law, “Forum non conveniens is a discretionary power that allows courts to dismiss a case where another court, or forum, is much better suited to hear the case. This dismissal does not prevent a plaintiff from re-filing his or her case in the more appropriate forum. See Res Judicata. This doctrine may be invoked by either the defendant, or by the court. See sua sponte.

Even if a plaintiff brings a case in an inconvenient forum, a court will not grant a forum non conveniens dismissal if there is no other forum that could hear the case, or if the other forum would not award the plaintiff any money even if he or she won. Similarly, courts will not grant a forum non conveniens dismissal where the alternative forum’s judicial system is grossly inadequate. For example, an American court would not grant a forum non conveniens dismissal where the alternative forum was Cuba.”

The Court noted that a decision involving forum non conveniens is a “balancing act” but the Plaintiff (our client in this case) holds a “heavy presumption weighing in favor of [her] initial forum choice.” Adelson v. Hananel, 510F.3d 43, 53 (1st Cir. 2007). Her forum choice “will be disturbed only rarely.” Nowak v. Tak How Invs., 94 F.3d 708, 719 (1st Cir. 1996).

Therefore, the Defendant (the Greek gardener operating the boat that hit our client’s boat from behind) must prove that “so inconvenient that transfer is needed to avoid serious unfairness.”

In the end, the Court agreed with our argument that our choice of venue should prevail. This was a hard fought victory that required countless hours of legal research, legal writing acumen, and an ability to make a cogent argument before the Federal Court of Appeals. Attorneys Jeremy Hellman and Thomas Giuffra were instrumental in securing a victory in appellate court and deserve kudos for their hard work, legal research, and oral argument before the court.  We are proud of this victory and are pleased that we can continue to fight for justice for US citizens who suffered such tragedy and agony overseas.

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