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Tooker v. Lopez


    Brief Fact Summary
    The Michigan trial court dismissed a civil action arising out of an accident that occurred in Michigan but involved an automobile from New York and people domiciled in New York.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    When all people involved in an auto accident are domiciled in a state other than where the accident occurred, the law of the domicile state applies.

    Facts
    Lopez and Tooker were involved in an automobile accident where the driver, Lopez, lost control of her vehicle and both were killed.  They were each domiciled in New York but residing in Michigan while attending Michigan State University.  The vehicle was registered and insured in New York.  Tooker’s estate (Plaintiff) and her parents (Plaintiff) brought a personal injury/wrongful death action against Lopez’s estate (Defendant).  The trial court, applying Michigan’s guest statute, dismissed, holding that Michigan had no interest in the matter as all the parties were domiciled in New York.  The appellate division affirmed, and the court of appeals granted review.

    Issue
    When all people involved in an auto accident are residents of a state other than where the accident occurred, does the law of the residents’ state apply?

    Held
    (Keating, J.)  Yes.  When all people involved in an auto accident are residents of a state other than where the accident occurred, the law of the residents’ state applies.  The traditional lex loci delicti rule, which provided that the law of the jurisdiction of accident invariably controls, is no longer followed.  Rather, courts of this state now look to which state has the greater interest.  When all the litigants involved in a particular accident are citizens of a state other than where the accident took place, it is highly unlikely that the particular state will have a valid interest in the application of its law.  The present case is an example.  The stated purpose of the guest statute is to protect local insurers from fraudulent, collusive claims.  This may be a valid policy, but Michigan has no interest in an out-of-state carrier, such as the case here.  Since Michigan has no interest here, the accident’s occurrence there being purely adventitious, Michigan has no interest in its guest statute being applied here.  Order of Appellate Division reversed and order of Special Term reinstated.

    Dissent
    (Breitel, J.)  In the present case, it was the citizenship of the parties and the state of registration that was “purely adventitious.â€

    Concurrence
    (Fuld, C.J.)  The following principles arise from this case: (1) When the passenger and driver live in the same state, and the car is registered there, the law of that state controls.  (2) When the driver’s offensive conduct occurs in the state where he lives, and that state imposes no liability for the conduct, he cannot be held liable even if the liability would be imposed under law of the state where the victim is domiciled.  And if the guest is injured in the state of his own domicile, and that state permits recovery, the driver that came into the state should generally not be permitted to use the law of his state for a defense.  (3) When the passenger and driver are from different states, the rule will generally be that of the state where the accident occurred, unless substituting another rule will advance the relevant substantive law without impairing the working of the multi-state system.

    Discussion
    The threshold exercise in which one must engage in conflicts analysis is identification of a conflict.  The simple existence of overlapping jurisdictions in a situation does not in itself make a conflict; there must be competing interests involved.  In this case, the court of appeals believed that Michigan had no interest whatsoever.


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