As you may know, different states have sometimes very different laws. Laws are overall somewhat similar, but small discrepancies between state laws will matter a great deal in a lawsuit. The most common example of this type of conflict occurs when an individual has been injured in one state, usually while traveling, and actually lives in another state. Whose law applies in that situation? Naturally, the states have come up with a generalized test for the court to consider.
The test is usually referred to as the “significant relationship” test. The court will determine which state has the strongest connection to the lawsuit. It will consider factors such as where the injured party lives, where the injury occurred, who caused the injury, and where the causing party lives. Where the injury actually occurred is important because witnesses and evidence will be gathered from the scene. If those witnesses and evidence have to be transferred to another state, then the trial may become a lot more time consuming and expensive for both parties. In order to maintain efficiency, the court will weigh the location of the incident heavily.
In February of this year, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered a case where choice of law was a major issue. In this case, an individual was killed as he was being transported in a helicopter to an oilrig in international waters off the coast of Louisiana for employment purposes. The helicopter hit a bird and went down, killing eight of the nine people that were in it. The crash was attributed to a product defect.
The deceased was survived by his two parents, who resided in Florida, and a son. The parents brought suit against the helicopter manufacturer; however, the mother of the child also brought suit on behalf of her son. The parents filed in Florida while the mother of the decedent’s child filed in Louisiana. The Florida court determined that Louisiana actually fit the significant relationship test more so than Florida. The Restatement (Second) Conflict of Laws provides a list of factors that the court should consider when determining which state fits the significant relationship test. These include:
– The needs of the interstate and international systems – Is this a sensitive interstate or international issue that needs to be carefully weighed?
– The relevant policies of the forum – For example, the court will consider whether the case will be dismissed because of other state laws. If they know it will be dismissed in the other forum, then they may not move the case.
– The relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of a particular issue – Does Louisiana have a specific interest in this case?
– The protection of justified expectations – Will the result of the case be fair and unbiased?
– The basic policies underlying the particular field of law – Does the other state have an established processes to address the issue?
– Certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result and
– Ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied.
After a series of moves from court to court, a Louisiana court combined the two cases in order to determine which suit would actually be allowed to move forward. In Louisiana, a parent cannot sue when there is a surviving spouse or child. Therefore, the court effectively eliminated the parents’ lawsuit because they chose to use Louisiana law instead of Florida law to govern the case. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with this reasoning and affirmed the decision.
This case illustrates that not only can choice of law be very important to the outcome of a case, it is also a very difficult subject to tackle. Experienced attorneys can help determine whose law to use and how to apply it in injury and wrongful death cases.
The Berniard Law Firm has just the attorneys to help with a case such as this. Contact The Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and we will be happy to help you with your legal needs.