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Malsch v. Bell Helicopter Textron

6/17/2005

William Earl Malsch and Andrew Stuart Leyda sued Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. ("Bell Helicopter"), and other defendants based on injuries they suffered as a result of a helicopter crash that occurred in February 2002. Bell Helicopter moved to dismiss the action on grounds of forum non conveniens pursuant to § 6-5-430, Ala. Code 1975. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the action. Malsch and Leyda appeal. We affirm.


I.


On February 14, 2002, a United States Marine Corps helicopter crashed while on a night-vision training mission in the Chocolate Mountains in California. Four crew members, including Malsch and Leyda, were aboard the helicopter when it crashed. Malsch and Leyda were severely injured; the two other crew members died. On January 5, 2004, Malsch and Leyda sued Bell Helicopter, the manufacturer of the helicopter, and numerous other entities alleged to have been involved in the production and maintenance of the helicopter or its parts in the Superior Court of California, San Diego County.


Because there was a question regarding the timeliness of the California action -- specifically whether it was subject to a one- or two-year statute of limitations -- Malsch and Leyda thereafter filed substantially identical actions in both Mississippi and Alabama, both of which have unambiguous two-year statutes of limitations for the action. The Alabama action, filed on February 12, 2004, in the Madison Circuit Court, alleged negligence and/or wantonness, a product-liability claim based on the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine, breach of warranty, and negligent failure to warn.


On March 17, 2004, Bell Helicopter moved the Madison Circuit Court to dismiss the Alabama action pursuant to § 6-5-430, Ala. Code 1975, the forum non conveniens statute. After hearing oral argument on the issue, the court granted Bell Helicopter's motion and dismissed the action against Bell Helicopter on July 21, 2004. Malsch and Leyda moved the court to modify its order; the court denied the motion. Malsch and Leyda appealed.


Meanwhile, in the California action, Bell Helicopter filed a response alleging that Malsch and Leyda's action was barred by the one- year statute of limitations provided in Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340 (West 1982), because, it argued, the one-year statute of limitations was the controlling statute at the time of the accident. In November 2004, Malsch and Leyda moved the Superior Court in San Diego County for a judgment on the pleadings seeking to strike Bell Helicopter's statute- of-limitations defense and to obtain a ruling that their action was instead controlled by Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1 (West 2005), which had become effective on January 1, 2003 -- after the accident, but before the running of the then one-year statutory period of limitations -- and which extended the statutory limitations period in which to file a personal-injury claim to two years. The Superior Court granted Malsch and Leyda's motion and held that their action was subject to the two- year limitations period in Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1.


Bell Helicopter requested that Superior Court certify its ruling on the statute-of-limitations issue for immediate appeal; however, the court declined to do. Therefore, Bell Helicopter's appeal of this issue, if the trial court enters a final judgment in favor of Malsch and Leyda, will not be heard until after the trial is completed. Malsch and Leyda accordingly claim that the statute-of-limitations issue in California may not be completely resolved for "several years."


II.


Alabama's forum non conveniens statute, § 6-5-430, Ala. Code 1975, provides:


"Whenever, e

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