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Dismissal of suit against South African broker in plane crash upheld

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A federal appeals court has upheld dismissal of insurance coverage litigation against a South African aviation brokerage and a London-based law firm over an airplane crash in Africa, stating a Florida court does not have jurisdiction in the matter.

The litigation stems from the 2009 crash of an aircraft owned by Daytona Beach, Florida-based Aviation One of Florida Inc. in Guinea, West Africa, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Aviation One of Florida Inc. v. Airborne Insurance Consultants (Pty) Ltd. The estimated cost of repair was $1.1 million, making it a total loss, according to the ruling.

At the time of the crash, the aircraft was being leased by Atlanta-based Africa Tours and Travel L.L.C. Africa Tours was responsible for obtaining insurance coverage for the aircraft, which it did through Langeria, South Africa-based brokerage Airborne Insurance Consultants, from Guardrisk Insurance Co., according to the ruling.

After Sandton, South Africa-based Guardrisk refused to provide coverage in connection with the crash, for reasons including that the pilot was not listed as an approved pilot on the policy, Aviation One retained Airborne’s legal counsel, Clyde & Co, to pursue recovery. But the effort was unsuccessful despite $300,000 in legal fees, according to the ruling.

Aviation One then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Florida, charging Airborne with negligently failing to procure insurance coverage and breaching its fiduciary duty, and charging Clyde with professional negligence.

The District Court dismissed the case on the basis a Florida court was the inappropriate forum for the dispute, which was upheld by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.

“We hold that Airborne does not have sufficient minimum contacts with the state of Florida for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Airborne to comport with due process,” said the ruling.

“Airborne did not solicit business in Florida, did not insure property or a risk in Florida and had no direct contact with Aviation One before the crash.

“After the crash, the contacts with Florida were limited to representing Airborne One’s interests in a coverage dispute with an insurer based in South Africa.

“Overall, Airborne’s contacts with the forum state itself were not such that it should have reasonably anticipated being (hauled) into court there,” said the ruling, which also upheld Clyde’s dismissal from the Florida litigation.