Montana District Court applies Ford Motor Company’s ‘relative to’ test to determine specific personal jurisdiction over foreign helicopter manufacturer – Aviation

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A federal district court in Montana has found that contact with the forum state merely “relating to” the cause of action is sufficient to justify the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over a foreign helicopter manufacturer. Thomas Duffy died when the K-Max helicopter he was piloting on an aerial firefighting mission crashed in Oregon. Mr. Duffy’s estate and his employer, Central Copters, Inc., filed a product liability suit against the helicopter maker, alleging the crash was caused by a faulty rotor flap.

Kaman requested the dismissal of the claim for lack of personal jurisdiction in Montana. The crux of Kaman’s argument was that none of his forum contacts were causally connected to the plaintiffs’ claims. In support, she claimed the company did not sell the crashed helicopter to Central Copters. Instead, Central Copters purchased the downed helicopter from the US State Department in 2007. Additionally, Central Copters is Kaman’s only customer in Montana, and its sales to Central Copters represent only 1% of all global sales of K-Max.

Since 1997, however, Kaman’s marketing manager has traveled to Montana several times to promote K-Max helicopter models to Central Copters and otherwise to assist Central Copters in purchasing K-Max helicopters from third. Kaman has sent technicians to Montana on several occasions to assist and train Central Copters personnel regarding K-Max inspections and service. Central Helicopters is one of sixteen K-Max operators in the world. As for the crashed helicopter, although Kaman did not sell it to Central Copters, Kaman flew it to Montana for Central Copters in exchange for US$50,000.

Citing the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in
Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 141 S.Ct. 1017, 1026 (2021), the district court explained that a “causal only” approach to specific personal jurisdiction is not supported by judicial precedent. Instead, due process is satisfied when an action arises out of or relates to a defendant’s contact with the forum state. The district court found that the plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently related to Kaman’s contact with Montana, even though, unlike
Ford, the accident occurred outside the State of the forum. Accordingly, the court dismissed Kaman’s motion.

Duffy versus Kaman Aerospace Corporation, 2022 US Dist. LEXIS 42735 (D. Mont. March 10, 2022).

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