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New York corporation could be sued in Pennsylvania for wrongful death

If a corporation is liable for a loved one's wrongful death, that corporation should be held accountable. However, what if that corporation is based in a state other than Pennsylvania?

In order for a lawsuit to be brought, a court must have jurisdiction. The recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Sulkava v. Glaston Finland Oy shows how such jurisdiction operates, allowing the spouse of a deceased victim to bring her lawsuit against a New York corporation in the Pennsylvania courts.

A Pennsylvania resident is killed in New York

The victim, a Pennsylvania resident, was helping to install two glass tempering furnaces at a corporation's site in New York when he came in contact with parts of the furnace that caused a fatal electric shock. His wife brought an action under Pennsylvania's Wrongful Death and Survival Act against several corporations involved in the manufacture and installation of the furnace, including a New York corporation which had no offices in Pennsylvania.

The New York corporation asserted that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over the corporation, and so the lawsuit should not be filed in Pennsylvania. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The victim's wife appealed.

Did the corporation have adequate ties to Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania Superior Court noted that, under state law, Pennsylvania courts may exercise "in personam" jurisdiction-that is, personal jurisdiction-over a corporation, if the corporation's business activities are so continuous and substantial that it is reasonable to exercise jurisdiction.

Here, although the corporation was incorporated under the laws of New York, maintained no place of business in Pennsylvania, and had no telephone listing or employees in the state, approximately 15 percent of the corporation's business was attributable to sales in Pennsylvania over the past 10 years. The corporation had earned more than $16 million in sales in the state and had paid state income tax on those sales. In the year of the victim's accident alone, the corporation had earned more than $2 million in sales in Pennsylvania.

Based on these and other facts, the Pennsylvania courts did have general personal jurisdiction over the New York corporation in this negligence action. The decision from the lower court against the victim's wife was therefore reversed.

Support and legal guidance

The legal issues surrounding any lawsuit can seem very complex, whether it is matters related to the evidence, or something more procedural like jurisdiction. If you have suffered the loss of a family member due to the negligence of others, you need counsel who will offer you experienced support and legal guidance to help you through the process and ensure that those responsible are held accountable regardless of where they reside.