Legal Translation Services for Travel-Related Injuries
We’ve blogged before about the need for legal translation services by certified translators and interpreters for lawsuits involving travel-related injuries during international travel pre-COVID-19 and during COVID-19. Many travel-related injuries involve international air carries and cruise lines. We’ve also blogged before about the Montreal Convention and its applicability to disputes involving international air travel. In both of the cases discussed below, the plaintiffs were injured during the course of their international travels and filed lawsuits after returning home from their trips. Below is a summary of the cases and the important impact that legal translation services had on the parties’ underlying legal claims.
Bintu v. Delta Airlines
German Citizen Injured on International Flight
In 2018, the plaintiff, a resident of Germany, purchased a round trip airline ticket from Delta Airlines to travel from Germany to Atlanta, Georgia. On the return flight, the plaintiff was scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and then on to Munich, Germany. During the flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, the plaintiff was injured when a flight attendant accidentally pushed a beverage cart into his knee. The plaintiff obtained medical care after he returned home to Germany and endured surgery and physical therapy as a result of the injury he sustained mid-flight.
Thereafter, in 2019, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Georgia seeking to hold airlines Delta and KLM (“the airlines”) jointly and severally liable for his injuries under the Montreal Convention. The Montreal Convention is an international treaty which sets forth uniform rules for claims arising out of incidents involving international air transportation.
Defendants File Motion to Dismiss Based on Forum Non Conveniens
The airlines filed a motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds, arguing that the dispute should be adjudicated in Germany, not the United States. According to Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 241 (1981), “the doctrine of forum non conveniens permits a court with venue to decline to exercise its jurisdiction when the parties’ and court’s own convenience, as well as the relevant public and private interests, indicate that the action should be tried in a different forum.” Accordingly, a court may decline jurisdiction if an adequate alternative forum is available, the public and private factors weigh in favor of dismissal, and if the plaintiff can file suit in an alternative forum without undue convenience. See Leon v. Millon Air, Inc., 251 F.3d 1305, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001). The plaintiff filed a response, arguing that the case should remain in the district court.
The court first considered whether Germany was an adequate and available forum, finding that it was, indeed, adequate. The plaintiff argued that Germany was not an adequate forum because Germany’s discovery process is more restrictive, that he could not compel witnesses to testify in Germany. The plaintiff expressed concern that a German court would misapply Georgia law. The court rejected these arguments, noting that despite these concerns, U.S. courts have consistently held that Germany is an adequate alternative forum. The court also noted that the defendants had agreed to be amendable to service of process in Germany even though they are not German residents.
Regarding the Montreal Convention, the court held that Germany had jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims under the treaty on the grounds that the airlines conducted business in Germany, the plaintiff’s destination was Germany, and the plaintiff resided in Germany.
Plaintiff’s Choice of Forum
The court also considered the proper deference it should afford to the plaintiff’s choice of forum. Here, the court noted that the plaintiff was a resident of a foreign country (Germany) and was not a U.S. citizen. Notably, the plaintiff had no connection to the U.S. aside from family relationships and occasional visits here. Accordingly, the court held that the defendants’ burden in opposing the plaintiff’s choice of forum was not as heavy as if the suit had been brought by a U.S.-based plaintiff.
Private Interest Factors: Location of Evidence
The court also considered private interest factors such as the ease of access to evidence and the cost of obtaining the attendance of willing witnesses. The court noted the plaintiff’s argument that any evidence submitted by the airlines could be easily obtained and transported given the fact that the defendants are involved in international transportation. However, the court found that litigating the matter in the U.S. district court would be far more burdensome than litigating the dispute in Germany given the fact that the overwhelming amount of evidence, including the plaintiff’s medical records, was located in Germany. Notably, the court held that “[i]f the matter were to proceed in this Court, there would not only be the need to transmit information currently located in Germany or The Netherlands, but also the likely need to provide certified translations of the information into English. This too points towards dismissal.”
Public Interest Factors: A Forum’s Interest in Deciding A Dispute
The court also considered public interest factors such as a forum’s interest in deciding a particular dispute. Here, the court noted that Germany has an interest in protecting its own residents and had a “substantial interest” in providing the plaintiff with an avenue in which to obtain damages for his injuries. While the court noted that The Netherlands also had an interest in the dispute given the fact that one of the defendants was headquartered there, the court found Germany’s interest to be the greatest.
Importantly, the court further stated that “[w]ith discovery involving German and Dutch speaking witnesses, and documents located in Europe, the Court would be required to spend a significant amount of time adjudicating the matter compared to matters where the evidence is located in Georgia and testimony does not need to be translated.
Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Suit
Based on the reasons discussed above, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint based on forum non conveniens grounds. The case is Kabeya Binu v. Delta Airlines, Inc., et a., Court No. 19-cv-04775 decided on June 12, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
Ruben v. SilverSea Cruises, Ltd.
Cruise Passenger Injured on Bike Tour in France
On July 8, 2018, the plaintiff boarded one of the defendant’s cruise ships for an eight-day voyage. Two days later, the plaintiff and her husband participated in a bicycle excursion around Bastia, Corsica, France. The plaintiff did not realize that the excursion involved riding and operating an electric bike before the excursion started. Instead, the plaintiff believed she would be participating in a leisurely tour on a manual bike. The plaintiff was unfamiliar with how to operate an electric bike and allegedly was required to maneuver the bicycle on high-trafficked roads at dangerous speeds. None of the tour guides spoke English. During the bike tour, the plaintiff allegedly expressed a desire to terminate the excursion to a cruise ship employee, who accompanied the group on the excursion and acted as an English to French interpreter. The cruise employee allegedly told the plaintiff that she needed to continue with the excursion because the tour bus was unable to pick her up along the tour. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was thrown from the electric bike in an accident and suffered injuries to her mouth, face, leg, elbow, and shoulder.
Tour Operator Files Motion to Dismiss
The plaintiff filed a seven-count complaint alleging claims for negligence, negligent hiring, negligent training, and related claims. The defendant tour company filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction and that it was not a convenient forum. The court agreed with the defendant tour company and held that it lacked jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims. The court explained that neither defendant was incorporated under the laws of Florida as the cruise line was a Monacan corporation and the tour company was a French corporation. While the cruise line’s parent company (Royal Caribbean) was incorporated in Florida, the court held that this was insufficient to impute citizenship on a foreign subsidiary for purposes of establishing specific jurisdiction over the tour company. The court also found that general jurisdiction did not exist over the tour company because it did not have any exceptional affiliations with Florida and its principal place of business and place of incorporation was Corsica, France.
Cruise Line Files Motion to Dismiss
The defendant cruise line also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims against it for negligent hiring, negligent misrepresentation, and other similar claims were without merit. With regard to the negligent hiring claim, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant tour company was “incompetent or unfit to conduct the excursion at issue…because the tour guides did not speak English and could not communicate with the tour participants…” The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant cruise line had not previously vetted the tour operator before contracting with it to provide tours to its English-speaking travelers. The court held that these allegations were sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. The court also denied the cruise line’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence for failure to warn claim, finding the plaintiff’s allegations that the cruise line knew or should have known that the tour was operated in dangerous areas, that the tour operator did not speak English and the plaintiff would not be able to understand the instructions, and that the tour operator had not been previously properly vetted to be sufficient.
The court also found the plaintiff’s claim for negligence under an apparent negligence theory to be sufficient. Specifically, the court held that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged that the defendant cruise line made representations that caused plaintiff to believe that the tour operator had authority to act for the cruise line’s benefit, such as using the cruise line’s logo, promoting the excursion as part of the cruise experience, and sending a cruise employee on the excursion who acted as an interpreter between the tour guides and the cruise passengers.
Based on the foregoing, the court granted the tour operator’s motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds but denied the cruise line’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The case is Ruben v. Silversea Cruises, Ltd., Court No. 19-cv-22241, decided on February 25, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
All Language Alliance, Inc. provides legal document translation services from German, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Arabic, and other foreign languages to English for litigation involving cruise lines and airlines. Contact our legal translation service to hire German deposition interpreters, Dutch deposition interpreters, French deposition interpreters, Italian deposition interpreters for remote depositions via Zoomand and for in-person depositions, Brazilian Portuguese deposition interpreters.
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