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Erwin v. Thomas

    Brief Fact Summary
    Erwin’s (Plaintiff) husband, a resident of Washington, was injured in Washington by Thomas (Defendant), an Oregon resident, for which Plaintiff sued in Oregon for loss of her husband’s consortium, a cause of action not available to wives in Washington.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    In the trial of an action, the law of the forum state should be applied when no state has a legitimate interest in the application of its law.

    Facts
    Erwin (Plaintiff) and her husband were residents of Washington.  Thomas (Defendant) was a resident of Oregon and while employed for an Oregon corporation, Shepler (Defendant), negligently operated a Shepler (Defendant) truck and caused injury to Erwin’s (Plaintiff) husband.  Plaintiff brought suit in Oregon for loss of her husband’s consortium.  Defendant moved to dismiss on grounds that Washington law should apply, and that Washington provides no cause of action to a wife for loss of her husband’s consortium.  Oregon does provide such a cause of action to wives.  This trial court dismissed the action, and Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue
    In the trial of an action, should the law of the forum state be applied when no state has a legitimate interest in the application of its law?

    Held
    (Holman, J.)  Yes.  In the trial of an action, the law of the forum state should be applied when no state has a legitimate interest in the application of its law.  The interests of the two states in question, Washington and Oregon, must first be determined.  Washington does not believe the rights of a married woman to be so important as to provide her a remedy.  However, Washington policy cannot be offended if another state’s court gives rights to a Washington resident that Washington does not give so long as no Washington defendant is involved.  Therefore, it would appear Washington had no urgent policy or interest that would be offended by application of Oregon Law. On the other hand, Oregon protects a married woman’s interest.  However, Oregon apparently did not have in mind the protection of all nonresident, married women injured outside the state of Oregon.  With neither state holding a legitimate interest, the law of the forum, Oregon, should apply.  In a case where policies and interests can be determined with fair certainty and there appears no real conflict, it is not necessary to use the most significant relationship test of the Second Restatement of Conflicts.  Reversed and remanded.

    Dissent
    (Bryson, J.)  Nonresidents who merely walk across the border should not be granted Oregon statutory rights.  There is obviously conflict between the policies of Washington and Oregon if the former will not provide a remedy while the latter will.

    Discussion
    The above decision raises the question of the unprovided for case.  What law should apply when two states have conflicting law, but there is no overriding interest that points to one or the other as legitimate?  Some believe the law of the forum should apply.  That is Professor Currie’s view, the main advocate of interest analysis, which he bases on the reason that there is then no reason to displace the forum’s law with any other.  Professor Sedler suggests that some common policy can be discerned between the forums that would indicate which law to apply.


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