Minimum Contacts for Maximum Recovery

Rather than describing the due process limitation on a state’s exercise of personal jurisdiction, “minimum contacts” may more accurately describe the interpersonal relationships of some of us at Abnormal Use. While relationships and the due process limits on personal jurisdiction may both be equally obtuse, only one can support a blog post. Alas, perhaps we can make some headway with personal jurisdiction.

The Colorado Court of Appeals recently found minimum contacts supporting personal jurisdiction in Etchieson v. Central Purchasing, LLC, No. 09-CA-0218, 2010 WL 1491642 (Colo. Ct. App. Apr. 15, 2010) [PDF]. Etchieson was injured when an electric meter exploded. As happens now in our globalized society, the defective product was manufactured outside of the United States by a Chinese company (“Precision”) with “no offices, employees, or facilities in the United States.” Id. The electric meter was purchased and sold among several companies before reaching the hands of the Plaintiff. Without going through a painful recitation of the facts, perhaps it is sufficient to say that Precision purposefully sold its product in the United States, but Precision did not “aim any advertising exclusively at Colorado and no Precision personnel ever visited Colorado.” Id. The trial court found these contacts insufficient to support exercise of the long-arm statute, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals discussed specific jurisdiction and Supreme Court precedent involving foreign corporations. At the risk of oversimplifying, the court of appeals reasoned that Precision purposefully manufactured its product for the United States market, and, because of that general availing of the broader market, Precision availed itself of the Colorado market. Moreover, specific jurisdiction was reasonable because “in the context of product liability, the limits on personal jurisdiction have been relaxed as trade has . . . globalized . . . and as modern transportation and communication have eased the burden of defending oneself in a distant state . . . .” Id. Therefore, personal jurisdiction is proper.

So what? How is this Plaintiff going to effectuate any judgment that he gets against a foreign company with no domestic assets? It seems a lot of this is driven by Colorado’s apportionment of liability statute, which does not permit recovery against any one tortfeasor in excess of the jury’s finding of liability. Moreover, a jury could consider the liability of any nonparty in the proceeding in its assessment of liability.

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