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Florida Second DCA finds that personal jurisdiction in wrongful death case did not exist over defendant helicopter manufacturer based in California

On January 5, 2022, in Robinson Helicopter Company, Inc., v. Gangapersaud, No. 2D20-2470, a personal injury wrongful death case, the Florida Second DCA reversed a trial court order which had denied a motion to dismiss by the defendant on the grounds of lack of personal jurisdiction. The case arose from a helicopter accident involving a helicopter manufactured by the defendant, a California corporation. The Estate of the deceased victim raised two specific grounds for personal jurisdiction over the defendant; first, that Robinson committed a tort within this state, and second, that a product manufactured by Robinson— the helicopter—caused injury within this state. The Estate argued that although the defendant had no representatives in Florida, the defendant’s communications with persons within the state prior to the accident about repairs to the helicopter was sufficient to establish long arm jurisdiction. However, the Second DCA noted that Wendt v. Horowitz, 822 So. 2d 1252, 1260 (Fla. 2002), the Florida Supreme Court decision which held that the commission of a tortious act for the purposes of long-arm jurisdiction "can occur through the nonresident defendant's telephonic, electronic, or written communications into Florida" so long as "the cause of action . . . arise[s] from the communications," has been interpreted in the Second DCA to apply only when the tort involves some sort of communication directed into Florida for purpose of fraud, slander, or other intentional tort (see Stonepeak Partners, LP v. Tall Tower Cap., LLC, 231 So. 3d 548, 554 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017)). The Second DCA acknowledged that The First DCA decision in Dean v. Johns, 789 So. 2d 1072 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001), found personal jurisdiction in the absence of an intentional tort, but distinguished that case because of differences in the nature of the communications and their nexus to the alleged tort. Regarding the Estate’s alternative argument that personal jurisdiction existed under Fla. Stat. 48.193(1)(a)(6) simply because the defendant’s product was used in the State of Florida, the Second DCA concluded that sufficient “minimum contacts” did not exist because the defendant had no representatives or advertising in Florida and the helicopter was not purposefully directed by the company to Florida but was instead sold to a dealer in Indiana before being resold and brought to Florida.

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