On April 18, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court issued its opinion in Russell v. SNFA, 2013 IL 113909. The State's highest Court agreed with the Plaintiff's argument that the Cook County Court hearing the underlying case has jurisdiction over the Defendant-foreign manufacturer.
The facts of the underlying case are tragic. The litigation resulted from a helicopter crash that took the life of pilot and sole occupant, Michael Russell. Mr. Russell was working as a pilot for a Chicago air ambulance company called Air Angels, Inc. at the time of the crash. The cause of the crash was the failure of one of the tail-rotor bearings, a custom-made metal assembly, which was manufactured by Defendant SNFA.
After the crash, the Plaintiff's Estate retained the Chicago law firm of Power Rogers & Smith. Todd A. Smith and Brian LaCien of the firm filed suit against multiple entitles, aside from SNFA, including the prior owner of the helicopter, the manufacturer of the helicopter, and the American distributor of SNFA's bearings.
After the initial filing of the lawsuit, SNFA moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the Illinois court could not properly assert jurisdiction over it. The Circuit Court of Cook County granted Defendant's motion and dismissed SNFA from the case. Smith and LaCien appealed the decision and the Appellate Court reversed, finding that the Circuit Court could subject SNFA to jurisdiction in Illinois. SNFA appealed and the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court's decision, ruling in favor of the Plaintiff.
In briefing the issue, Plaintiff highlighted the fact that SNFA is a French company that manufactured custom-made bearings for use in airplanes and helicopters. While SNFA does not have a license to do business in Illinois, SNFA knowingly used the helicopter's manufacturer's distributor to distribute and market in the U.S., including Illinois. Indeed, SNFA's sales personnel made multiple sales of other products in Illinois and SNFA maintains a business relationship with a company in Rockford, Illinois for the purpose of selling additional custom-made bearings to Illinois consumers. Consequently, the Court found that these contacts with Illinois were sufficient to ensure due process was satisfied and that the exercise of jurisdiction over SNFA was reasonable and proper.
This was an important win, not only in the Russell case, but for all product liability cases involving a foreign defendant that, although it does not have a license to do business within the state, manufactures a dangerous product that injures someone in Illinois. Mr. Smith, who argued the case before the Illinois Supreme Court, commented, "The Court's recent decision ensures that Mr. Russell's lawsuit against SNFA can move forward, and that other plaintiffs seeking justice against foreign manufacturers will be able to do so, as well."