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Paul v. National Life

Citation. 177 W.Va. 427, 352 S.E.2d 550 (1986)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Two residents of West Virginia die in a car accident in Indiana. The estate of the car passenger (Plaintiff) sued the estate and insurer of the car driver (Defendants). Defendants moved for summary judgment based on Indiana’s guest passenger statute.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Choice of law is determined by lex loci delicti except when the application of the foreign law would violate a state’s public policy.


Two residents of West Virginia, Eliza Vickers and Aloha Jane Paul, took a weekend trip to Indiana, where they died in a car crash when Ms. Vickers lost control of the car. The estate of Ms. Paul (plaintiff) brought a wrongful death claim against the estate of Ms. Vickers and National Life Accident Company (Defendants) in West Virginia. Defendants moved for summary judgment based on Indiana’s guest passenger statue.


Should lex loci delicti determine choice of law when the foreign law is contrary to a state’s public policy?


No, though the court upheld the doctrine of lex loci delicti generally, it did not apply foreign law in this case because the application of Indiana’s guest passenger statue was contrary to West Virginia public policy. The summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded.


The Court reasoned that the doctrine of lex loci delicti was more predictable and easier to apply than a choice of law analysis involving a balancing test of multiple factors, as used by other courts. Instead, the Court upheld its use of lex loci delicti while also creating an exception banning the use of laws from other states that would violate public policy. The Court rejected the use of all guest passenger statutes because West Virginia public policy is to offer recovery for persons injured by a diver’s negligence.

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