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Paul v. National Life

    Brief Fact Summary
    Paul’s survivors (Plaintiff) argued that the lex loci delicti rule for choice of law should be rejected.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    The lex loci delicti rule for choice of law should be applied, except when a state public policy would be violated by doing so.

    Facts
    Vickers lost control of her vehicle and drove it off the road while driving in Indiana.  She and her passenger, Paul, were both killed.  Both had been residents of West Virginia.  Paul’s survivors (Plaintiff) brought a wrongful death action.  The court applied Indiana’s guest statute and dismissed. Paul’s survivors (Plaintiff) appealed, arguing that the lex loci delicti rule for choice of law should not be followed.

    Issue
    Should the lex loci delicti rule for choice of law be applied, except when a state public policy would be violated by doing so?

    Held
    The lex loci delicti rule for choice of law should be applied, except when a state public policy would be violated by doing so.  In the last 30 years, this rule has been replaced in most states by a rather complicated analysis involving competing state interests.  However, a reading of the relevant cases shows that the lex loci rule was discarded mostly to avoid unjust results in certain cases.  The better approach is to retain the lex loci rule but simply not employ it in a particular situation when doing so would violate state public policy.  The lex loci rule has the advantage of predictability, which helps to expedite cases.  [The court went on to hold application of Indiana’s guest statute to violate West Virginia public policy.]  Vacated and remanded.

    Discussion
    Most of the landmark cases jettisoning the lex loci rule were decided between 1963 and 1973 and involved laws that the forum courts found distasteful.  Guest statutes and interspousal immunity were the usual situations.  Interestingly, in the intervening years, most states have abolished these doctrines, so the reasons for the departure from the lex loci rule, for the most part, no longer exist.


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