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Grant v. McAuliffe

    Brief Fact Summary
    Two California residents driving separate cars in Arizona crashed into one another and one died as a result.  Under Arizona law, a tort action did not survive the death of the plaintiff, while under California law it did.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    Statutes providing for the survival of a tort action if the plaintiff dies are procedural, not substantive, and may be applied to a suit that arises from an injury sustained in a different jurisdiction.

    Facts
    Pullen was a resident of California and the driver of an automobile who died as result of an auto accident in which he was allegedly the negligent party.  The accident took place in Arizona.  Grant (Plaintiff), also a resident of California, was injured in the accident and sought damages from McAuliffe (Defendant), Pullen’s administrator.  Under California law, tort actions survive the tortfeasor’s death, however, under Arizona law they do not.  The California trial court found that Arizona law applied sine it was a substantive rather than procedural nature and, therefore, granted McAuliffe’s (Defendant) motion to abate Plaintiff’s suit.  Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the law was in fact procedural and therefore the law of the forum, California, should apply.

    Issue
    Is a survival statute as to tort actions substantive law that would govern litigation over injuries sustained wherever the case is tried?

    Held
    (Traynor, J.)  No.  A survival statute as to tort actions is not substantive law that would govern litigation over injuries sustained wherever the case is tried.  This court recognizes the doctrine that the substantive law of the place of the wrong must govern litigation wherever it is tried.  However, the forum state may always follow its own procedural rules of law.  Since the authorities are split on whether a survival statute is procedural or substantive, this court will determine which argument has the most merit.  Because a survival statute does not create a new cause of action but simply allows the continuation of an existing action, it is procedural.  All the relevant contacts are with California and the survival statute does not relate to liability but is a procedural rule to enforce claims for damages.  Since a court may always follow its own procedural rules, this case may properly be tried under California law.  Reversed and remanded.

    Dissent
    (Schauer, J.)  The characterization of this statute as procedural will produce a “rule†of law that is no rule at all.  The only limit on the variable results this will produce is the limit of the judge’s whimsy.  Administration of an estate is a local procedure but the rights and liabilities of the parties in a personal injury suit are substantive.

    Discussion
    The California court was preparing the groundwork for abandoning the vested rights doctrine in choice of laws.  The substance-procedure distinction was an escape device to allow the state that had the most contacts to apply its own law to the case.  Arizona had no interest in this case, as all the parties and their families were in California.


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