A Florida court has ruled that it has jurisdiction in a claim against Airbnb involving life-changing serious injuries sustained by a UK resident.
In the case of Wells vs Airbnb and Others, the circuit court of West Palm Beach County dismissed Airbnb’s motion challenging jurisdiction. The court held that the plaintiff could sue Airbnb in Florida alongside various other entities.
Background and Florida court’s decision
Mrs Wells, a UK-resident, was on holiday in an Airbnb property in Florida with her husband and two friends when she suffered life-changing injuries resulting in an above-knee amputation to her left leg. Mrs Wells slipped and fell on a black mat in the kitchen of the property when re-entering from outside. As a result of the incident, Mrs Wells sustained a traumatic dislocation of the left knee and traumatic occlusion of her popliteal artery. She underwent various surgeries while in Florida and was repatriated back to the UK in early January 2022. On returning to the UK, it was discovered that Mrs Wells’ blood flow to her left leg was blocked, and she required an above-knee amputation.
Airbnb argued that, pursuant to its terms and conditions, a plaintiff who lives in the UK is required to pursue any claim they have against Airbnb in the Irish courts and against Airbnb Ireland.
The plaintiff argued that the Florida courts should exercise jurisdiction over Airbnb on the basis that it is doing business in the state of Florida. This was evident from statistics the plaintiff provided to the court in response to the motion. Airbnb has at least 100 employees in Florida and averaged over 345,000 rental listings in Florida in 2020 and 2021, the most of any state in the US. In 2019, Airbnb had approximately 3,700 listings for rentals in Palm Beach alone, and as early as 2016, Airbnb had agreements with 22 Florida counties.
The judge accepted the plaintiff’s arguments in response to the motion, finding that Airbnb does business in the state of Florida. Accordingly, a plaintiff injured in an Airbnb holiday rental in Florida booked via Airbnb’s online accommodation booking platform is entitled to sue the company in the Florida courts as this is where the incident took place and where the claim against the other defendant companies is proceeding.
Chris Deacon, a partner in Stewarts’ international injury team, comments: “This is an important decision for Mrs Wells, which enables her to continue her claim against Airbnb alongside the other defendants she holds responsible for the catastrophic injury she sustained while staying at this vacation rental in Florida. Mrs Wells maintains that the property was unsafe, resulting in her requiring an above-knee amputation following a fall inside the apartment.
“The decision of the Florida courts not only reflects the legal position on which courts have jurisdiction in proceedings in the US but also makes good practical sense. It enables the claim against Airbnb to proceed alongside the claim against the other defendants, who are all doing business in Florida. The decision may be relevant in other cases where Airbnb seeks to rely on its standard terms and conditions to limit the rights of consumers.
“The question of liability for the accident remains to be resolved. However, the court has sent a clear signal to Airbnb that it cannot easily escape being held to account in the courts of the place where an incident occurs when one of its customers is enjoying the use of a rental property booked via its online platform. The Florida court has rightly dismissed Airbnb’s attempt to hide behind the company being incorporated in another US state and rely on its booking conditions. These conditions impose potentially onerous terms on the weaker party to a dispute, in this instance, the seriously injured victim of an incident in a vacation rental apartment.”
The case will now move forward against Airbnb Inc., 1236 Beach Road LLC, Turnkey Vacation Rentals LLC and Vacasa LLC, with a trial expected in late 2023 or early 2024.
Stewarts acts for Mrs Wells and her husband alongside US attorneys Bob Parks and Gabriel Garay of Garay Law, Florida.
David Sharp KC of 12 King’s Bench Walk provided advice to assist the plaintiff’s response to Airbnb’s motion to dismiss, further to Airbnb’s argument that the courts of Ireland should exercise jurisdiction over the claim and the correct defendant was Airbnb Ireland. Both these arguments were dismissed by the judge in Florida.
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