CHARLESTON, W. Va. — A Kanawha County circuit judge has rejected an attempt by American Electric Power to move a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit to another county.
AEP says the lawsuit filed against it and its subsidiaries by the estate of Sean McGinley should be moved to Braxton County where the traffic collision that claimed McGinley’s life took place.
McGinley, a well-known Charleston attorney, was killed in a crash that happened on June 3, 2021, when a northbound AEP pole digger truck came across the median after blowing a tire and struck McGinley’s southbound car not far from the Frametown exit. He was traveling home from Morgantown at the time of the crash.
His estate alleges there was no pre-auction inspection of the truck.
The main defendants in the lawsuit, filed by McGinley’s widow Ana Marino, include AEP subsidiary Kentucky Power and AEP Transmission.
Attorney Becky Pomeroy, representing the utility company, asked Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit during a hearing last week to move the case.
“Given that the accident arose in Braxton County and that seems to be the county with the most contacts to the dispute in the case, we believe Braxton County is the most appropriate,” Pomeroy said.
She further argued the plaintiffs were using defendant Capital City Auto, which has a location in Kanawha County, as its venue giving the defendant and the plaintiffs now plan to dismiss that defendant from the lawsuit.
Pomeroy argued without Capital City Auto, the plaintiffs can’t identify enough ties of Kentucky Power and AEP Transmission to Kanawha County to keep the lawsuit there.
“You have to allege sufficient contacts to meet personal jurisdiction requirements but they don’t even come close to that,” Pomeroy told Tabit.
McGinley estate attorney Robert Bastress III countered and told Tabit the plaintiffs have 14 pages worth of American Electric Power links to Kanawha County.
“AEP has admitted that it has negotiated collective bargaining agreements on behalf of employees in Kanawha County, they’ve admitted they’ve hired engineers in Kanawha County and they’ve admitted they’ve appeared before the (state) Public Service Commission in Charleston , “Bastress said.
Pomeroy said a listing in a phone book is not sufficient to say that AEP has a “doing business component.”
“Lots of different companies have listings in phone books in areas where they’re not located or doing business,” Pomeroy said.
Bastress said it’s the plaintiffs in civil lawsuits who get to choose the venue, not the defendants. He said previous rulings by the state Supreme Court stood behind his argument.
Tabit, before rejecting AEP’s request, said the motion appeared to be splitting hairs. She said the plaintiffs have a low bar to meet when it comes to venue.
“The standard under the law is minimum contacts under the statute. I think that the venue in Kanawha County is appropriate,” Tabit said.
The truck was based in Kentucky. It was picked up there by an auto auction employee and was being driven to Mountain State Auto Auction in Shinnston when the wreck occurred. Mountain State Auto has also been named as a defendant in the case.
Deposits have started. The trial is currently scheduled to begin Dec. 12.