Brief Fact Summary
Phillips (Plaintiff), the legal guardian of the sole survivor of a traffic accident and personal representative of the estates of the survivor’s parents who died in the crash, brought suit against General Motors (GM) (Defendant) for personal injury, product liability, and wrongful death in Montana, where the accident victims resided.
Synopsis of Rule of Law
In a case where a potential conflict of laws exists, Montana will follow the most significant relationship test to determine which state’s substantive law is applicable.
Phillips (Plaintiff) represented the estates of a Montana family killed while driving a Chevrolet pickup truck on a Kansas freeway while en route to spend Christmas in North Carolina.Â Phillips (Plaintiff), who lived in North Carolina, filed suit for product liability in federal court in Montana.Â When the parties disagreed on which state’s substantive law was applicable, the court certified three questions to the Montana Supreme Court.
In a case where a potential conflict of laws exists, will Montana follow the most significant relationship test to determine which state’s substantive law is applicable?
(Regnier, J.)Â Yes.Â In a case where a potential conflict of laws exists, Montana will follow the most significant relationship test to determine which state’s substantive law is applicable.Â Under the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws approach that the Court now adopts, the local law of the place of injury, Kansas, is presumptively applicable in a product liability and wrongful death action unless another state has a more significant relationship.Â The following factors all point to the application of Montana law:Â the deceased resided in Montana at the time of the accident, GM (Defendant) does business in Montana, Montana has a direct interest in preventing defective products from injuring Montana residents and is interested in fully compensating Montana residents.Â The public policies of all interested states must be considered in determining which state has the more significant relationship; a â€œpublic policyâ€ exception would therefore be redundant.Â Since the lex loci rule has been abandoned for contract disputes, the same choice of law approach should also be applied in tort cases.
The court considered each factor carefully as set out in Restatement (Second).Â Included were: needs of the interstate and international system, the policies of interested states, place of injury, place of conduct, residence of parties, and basic policies underlying the particular field of law.Â North Carolina would not have applied its own laws because it still followed the traditional place of injury rule in tort cases.