Tuesday, January 7, 2003
Indonesia Air Crash Suit Can Be Tried Here, Court of Appeal Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A lawsuit growing out of a 1997 air crash in Indonesia that resulted in the deaths of 97 people, including two Californians, may be tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Silk Air, the Singapore Airlines subsidiary that operated the flight, has sufficient California contacts to support jurisdiction, Presiding Justice Candace Cooper wrote for Div. Eight in an unpublished opinion.
The crash of Silk Air Flight 185 in the Sumatran jungle remains a matter of great controversy.
The National Transportation Safety Board—which investigated the overseas disaster because Boeing Corporation made the airplane, a 737-300—said the pilot probably committed suicide by deliberately crashing the plane, perhaps because of recent heavy investment losses and run-ins with management.
The Singaporean and Indonesian governments have never accepted the NTSB’s conclusion, nor have they reached any conclusion of their own as to the cause of the crash.
The Los Angeles Superior Court suit was brought by the pilot’s heirs against Silk Air, Boeing, and manufacturers of some of the plane’s components. One of the defendants, Parker Hannafin Corporation, asserted the suicide theory in its cross-complaint against the heirs and also sued Silk Air for contribution and indemnity, claiming the carrier had negligently hired and supervised the pilot.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias denied Silk Air’s motion to quash for lack of jurisdiction.
Cooper agreed with the trial judge that while it has no offices or employees in California, Silk Air does enough business in this state to be subject to the jurisdiction of its courts. She cited evidence that the company generated over $4 million in revenues from California during a recent three-year period, much of it through the parent company, which flies to and from this state and has offices here from which it solicits business for the subsidiary.
The fact that Silk Air obtains business through its parent, she reasoned, distinguishes the case from others in which foreign entities whose California business was conducted entirely through independent, non-exclusive agents were found to lack the requisite minimum contacts.
The presiding justice also noted that Californians may purchase Silk Air tickets through the company’s web site.
While “this indeed is a very close case,” Cooper said, the totality of the evidence shows that Silk Air has “continuous and systematic contacts with California,” and that its activities here “are simply not so random or fortuitous that it would be unfair to subject it to general jurisdiction in this case.”
Attorneys in the Court of Appeal were James I. Michaelis and Miriam Piwoz Goodman of Thousand Oaks’ Michaelis, Montanari & Johnson for Silk Air and Robert M. Kern, William V. O’Connor and Ashley E. Dempsey of the West Los Angeles firm of Kern and Wooley for Parker Hannafin.
The case is Silk Air (Singapore) Pvt., Ltd. v. Superior Court, B159666.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company