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An unexpected phone call from a British labor and personal injury firm has prompted a Philadelphia attorney specializing in Federal Employers Liability Act claims to pursue an unusual side practice: international travel litigation. Michael Kleeman, of Kleeman Abloeser & DiGiovanni, a three-member firm with offices in Philadelphia and Woodbury, N.J., has joined forces with Browell Smith & Co. — a Newcastle, England-based firm composed of approximately 180 solicitors — in representing British tourists who are injured during visits to the United States. According to Kleeman, it all began with a tour bus traveling from Nevada to San Francisco that crashed in Tonopah, Nev., on Sept. 7, 2000. A statement of the case provided by Kleeman alleges that the 39 British tourists aboard the bus were visiting the United States on a prepaid package holiday purchased from a U.K.-based tour company called Archers Direct. The bus, Kleeman wrote in the statement, was traveling at more than 75 mph when its driver lost control and the bus overturned, skidding on its side along the highway. In an interview with The Legal Intelligencer, Kleeman said the vehicle’s panoramic windows splintered as the bus slid on the road, leaving one tourist missing a large portion of her face. According to the attorney, several other passengers lost limbs. But despite the tourists’ allegedly catastrophic injuries, Kleeman said, they couldn’t have collected much against the English tour company since damages there tend to be a fraction of those awarded in the United States. But one of the bus passengers, the lawyer said, was a past president of a Scottish union that had employed Browell Smith in other matters. The tourist turned to the British company after the accident. Enter Kleeman Abloeser. Browell Smith senior partner Philip Browell told The Legal Intelligencer his firm contacted Kleeman after receiving the attorney’s name through a series of referrals that originated with Browell Smith’s trade union clients that have U.S. contacts. The British firm interviewed Kleeman in Durham, England, before signing him on for the job, Browell said. Primarily, the solicitors were interested in working with Kleeman because Kleeman’s railroad union work in FELA cases is similar to the union work Browell Smith handles, Browell said. The solicitor also says that the two firms share the same philosophies — that is, both are aggressive and always put their clients first. Kleeman said that when Browell Smith contacted him and asked whether he thought he could represent a group of British tourists injured on a bus in the United States, or if not, refer the case to another U.S. lawyer, he believed he could handle it. And he did, but the attorney said the tour bus case, captioned Wingfield v. California Sun Line Inc., was one of the most complicated matters he’s worked on to date. Initially, Kleeman did not expect Wingfield would be an international case. But the matter, which ended with a settlement totaling more than $10 million, was international in scope because the San Fernando, Calif., bus company had liability coverage that topped out at $10 million. The bus company, though, had contracted with New York-based Group Voyagers Inc., a company that provided a tour director and was a subcontractor of Archers Direct, the statement of the case indicates. Kleeman said the plaintiffs initiated suit in California through local counsel retained by his firm. The statement of the case indicates that Archers Direct was sued on an ostensible agency theory based on the passengers’ belief that the bus driver and tour director were Archers Direct employees. The plaintiffs also sued California Sun Line, alleging that its driver had been negligent, the statement reports. And as to Group Voyagers, the British tourists claimed direct liability for employing a bus company that provided an unsafe driver, and vicarious liability for negligence on the part of the tour director. However, the statement of the case indicates that Archers Direct made a special appearance in California to contest jurisdiction and have the case transferred to England. According to the document, the plaintiffs’ tour contracts included language on the back of a brochure that said all litigation against the tour company was to take place in England, Scotland or Wales, and it was that language that formed the basis for the tour company’s argument. Kleeman’s clients countered that they could not sue the bus company in the United Kingdom, and that should the portion of the matter against the tour company be transferred there, the case would have to be tried twice — once in California and once abroad, he said. Kleeman said the argument did not work in California state court, and subsequently, he appealed. The attorney said he thought his clients had a very good chance of winning on appeal given that enforcement of the forum selection clause would have require multiple litigation in different venues. When briefs were filed and arguments set, Kleeman said, the tour company filed an action in England to enjoin the plaintiffs from proceeding in the United States. Kleeman said that had his clients lost in England, they would have been responsible for all of the quickly mounting legal fees of both parties. Subsequently, the case settled after a two-week mediation in California, Kleeman said. According to the statement of the case, the settlement amounts to be tendered by Archers Direct and Group Voyagers are confidential. But California Sun Line will tender its $10 million policy limits, the document indicates. Kleeman said Browell Smith has since referred his firm to other solicitors’ firms in England, and that Kleeman Abloeser is currently handling five additional tourist personal injury cases arising from accidents involving British tourists. But Browell Smith isn’t Kleeman Abloeser’s only source of referrals abroad, Kleeman said. Insurance companies that use United Kingdom-based solicitors’ firms are also planning to refer injured insureds to the U.S. attorneys, Kleeman says. And he plans to meet with a French firm in the near future. Kleeman hopes to continue building his international tourism practice by developing a network of contacts in England through Browell Smith.

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