May 11, 2015

Nonresident plaintiffs who sue for an injury or death that happened out of state will have a harder time keeping their cases in Texas courts if a bill that the House passed becomes law.

The House on May 11 voted 132-5 to pass House Bill 1692, which changes the state’s forum non conveniens statute. The Senate on May 12 sent the bill to its State Affairs Committee, which set a public hearing for May 18.

The bill’s author, Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, said during a May 8 House debate that his bill would reserve Texas courts for Texas residents by making sure that plaintiffs are residents, or have some connection to the state. Sheets noted that he amended his bill with agreed language after negotiations among stakeholders.

The bill addresses In Re Ford Motor Co., a 2014 Texas Supreme Court case in which a Mexican national died in a car accident in Mexico. His wrongful death beneficiaries sued Ford Motor Co. in a Texas court. The company argued that the beneficiaries were not plaintiffs under forum non conveniens, but the high court disagreed, noting that it relied on a Texas-resident exception in the law. HB 1692 undoes the exception.

Current law prohibits a court from staying or dismissing a plaintiff’s lawsuit if he’s a Texas resident. If a case involves resident and nonresident plaintiffs, the court can’t dismiss or stay the case if the Texas resident was properly joined and the claims arose from a single incident, says current law.

HB 1692 deletes the definition of a “legal resident” plaintiff in current law. Instead it defines “plaintiff” as a party seeking recovery for personal injury or wrongful death. Current law says a plaintiff is not a counterclaimant, cross-claimant or third-party plaintiff. The bill adds that a plaintiff is not a representative, administrator, guardian or next friend—unless they are a derivative claimant of a Texas resident.

The bill continues to prohibit a court from dismissing a Texas resident’s lawsuit. The bill adds that a court cannot dismiss the claim of a Texas resident’s derivative claimant, which means a person whose damages were caused by the personal injury or wrongful death of another.

For others, the bill instructs the court to determine whether to stay or dismiss their claims using the test in current law; in reaching the decision, the bill prohibits a court from considering whether any other plaintiff’s claims might be stayed or dismissed or considering the plaintiff’s country of citizenship or national origin. In those cases with both a resident and nonresident, the current test would also decide whether to grant or deny a stay or dismissal.

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