Defense attorneys are frequently filing motions to transfer venue. In Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims, many attorneys include an improper venue as an affirmative defense. Plaintiffs and defendants usually engage in the practice of forum shopping. That is, each side wants to ensure that the county they file suit in is sympathetic toward their “cause.” There are two main Florida statutes that govern venue:
- Florida Statute 47.011 states: “Where actions may be begun – Actions shall be brought only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located.”
- Florida Statute 47.051 offers more specific venue language for corporations: “Actions against corporations – Actions against domestic corporations shall be brought only in the county where such corporation has, or usually keeps, an office for the transaction of its customary business, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located. Actions against foreign corporations doing business in this state shall be brought in a county where such corporation has an agent or other representative, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located.”
In the realm of PIP, plaintiffs are dealing with Florida Statutes Section 47.051, as most defendants are corporations (i.e. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, Liberty Mutual Insurance, etc.). Case law indicates that the burden of pleading and proving that venue is improper is upon the defendant, like in Inverness Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. McDaniel, 78 So. 2d 100 (1955). The defendant must prove that the plaintiff filed their lawsuit in the wrong jurisdiction or court. They must specifically indicate why the chosen venue is improper in that jurisdiction.
Moreover, Florida statute section 47.122 states, “For the convenience of the parties or witnesses or in the interest of justice, any court of record may transfer any civil action to any other court of record in which it might have been brought.” It also states that the venue may be changed based on three considerations:
- The convenience of the parties
- The convenience of the witnesses or
- In the interest of justice
In order for a court to consider the convenience of the witnesses, the court must initially know who the witnesses are, and they must likewise have information concerning the significance of their testimony.
Quality of witness: Who to include in a PIP case
- Important witnesses: medical providers, billing directors of medical providers, etc. These witnesses are able to testify as to billing for medical codes, medical services and medical treatment. If the case is being denied for an irregular charge or an upcharge, the billing director’s testimony would be essential. An expert witness may be an important witness in connection with a fee schedule dispute.
- Unimportant Witnesses: police officers, eyewitnesses, investigators, etc. These individuals would not be able to provide testimony as to any material issue in the case. In most PIP cases the insured assigns their benefits under the insurance policy to a medical provider. Thus, these witnesses would not be able to testify regarding medical terminology, billing and the like. These witnesses could become key witnesses in a bodily injury case, but for purposes of PIP, their testimony is irrelevant.
Applying a motion to transfer venue in a recent case
I am currently dealing with a State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance policy. State Farm is a foreign corporation doing business in Florida (State Farm is incorporated in Illinois). As the plaintiff medical provider’s attorney, I filed the lawsuit in Broward County, as the provider’s office is located in Deerfield Beach. The provider is likewise an essential witness to this case. The defendant is alleging that the medical treatment was not medically necessary. The defendant wishes to transfer the venue to Palm Beach County because he believes that the witnesses in the case are all located in Palm Beach County. However, the defense attorney failed to mention who the witnesses are, the substance of the witnesses’ testimony, and the location of each individual witness.
The court must assess the convenience of the witnesses and the parties prior to discussing the interests of justice pursuant to the above-mentioned Florida Stat. Sec. 47.122. The plaintiff provider is located in Broward County, as is the defense counsel. He did not mention with specificity where each potential witness resided or practiced business. Lastly, he failed to mention why it would be substantially inconvenient for each witness to provide testimony, etc. in Broward County.
What’s especially important is that the court in Inverness held that the corporation, Inverness Coca-Cola Bottling Company (case mentioned earlier) may have an “office for the transaction of its customary business” in Hillsborough County, regardless of the location of its principal place of business.” Thus, based on Florida Statutes Section 47.051, and case law, the venue is proper where the corporation has an agent or other representative if one is dealing with a foreign corporation.
Upon review of State Farm’s website, the foreign corporation has approximately 50 agents or offices in Broward County. Based on the above-mentioned Florida case law and Florida statutes, the court should grant our motion in opposition to the defendant’s motion to transfer venue. The plaintiff’s medical provider is a key witness, who just so happens to be located in Broward County. The defendant failed to meet its burden by producing evidence that it would be substantially inconvenient for other medical witnesses to appear in Broward County.
It is essential for medical providers to contact an experienced PIP insurance litigation attorney at the inception of a PIP insurance lawsuit. Defense attorneys will file an affirmative defense in response to a complaint. These attorneys will file motions to transfer the venue immediately. The goal of this motion is to move the case to a venue (different territory or court) where a majority of the judges rule for insurance carriers on contested PIP issues. Talk to an attorney that will file the necessary motions and do their due diligence to ensure that the case remains in the venue it was filed in.