From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Reich v. Purcell

Supreme Court of California
Oct 30, 1967
67 Cal.2d 551 (Cal. 1967)

Summary

holding that California had no interest in applying its laws to suit involving automobile accident that occurred in Missouri when plaintiffs were domiciled in Ohio, not California

Summary of this case from North v. Samsung SDI Am., Inc.

Opinion

Docket No. L.A. 28903.

October 30, 1967.

APPEAL from a portion of a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Stevens Fargo, Judge. Reversed with directions.

Irell Manella, Charles H. Phillips, Richard H. Borow and J. Gordon Hansen for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

John R. Allport for Defendant and Respondent.


This wrongful death action arose out of a head-on collision of two automobiles in Missouri. One of the automobiles was owned and operated by defendant Joseph Purcell, a resident and domiciliary of California who was on his way to a vacation in Illinois. The other automobile was owned and operated by Mrs. Reich, the wife of plaintiff Lee Reich. The Reichs then resided in Ohio and Mrs. Reich and the Reichs' two children, Jay and Jeffry, were on their way to California, where the Reichs were contemplating settling. Mrs. Reich and Jay were killed in the collision, and Jeffry was injured.

Plaintiffs, Lee Reich and Jeffry Reich, are the heirs of Mrs. Reich and Lee Reich is the heir of Jay Reich. Plaintiffs moved to California and became permanent residents here after the accident. The estates of Mrs. Reich and Jay Reich are being administered in Ohio.

The parties stipulated that judgment be entered in specified amounts for the wrongful death of Jay, for the personal injuries suffered by Jeffry, and for the damages to Mrs. Reich's automobile. For the death of Mrs. Reich they stipulated that judgment be entered for $55,000 or $25,000 depending on the court's ruling on the applicability of the Missouri limitation of damages to a maximum of $25,000. (Vernon's Ann. Mo. Stats. § 537.090.) Neither Ohio nor California limit recovery in wrongful death actions. The trial court held that the Missouri limitation applied because the accident occurred there and entered judgment accordingly. Plaintiffs appeal.

Amount of damages recoverable. "In every action brought under section 537.080 [action for wrongful death], the jury may give to the surviving party or parties who may be entitled to sue such damages, not exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars, as the jury may deem fair and just for the death and loss thus occasioned, with reference to the necessary injury resulting from such death, and having regard for mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act, neglect or default resulting in such death. . . ."

Ohio Constitution, article I, section 19a: "The amount of damages recoverable by civil action in the courts for death caused by wrongful act, neglect or default of another, shall not be limited by law." California Code of Civil Procedure, section 377: "In every action under this section, such damages may be given as under all the circumstances of the case, may be just, . . ."

For many years courts applied the law of the place of the wrong in tort actions regardless of the issues before the court, e.g., whether they involved conduct, survival of actions, applicability of a wrongful death statute, immunity from liability, or other rules determining whether a legal injury has been sustained. (See Loranger v. Nadeau, 215 Cal. 362, 366 [ 10 P.2d 63, 84 A.L.R. 1264]; Ryan v. North Alaska Salmon Co., 153 Cal. 438, 439 [ 95 P. 862]; Rest., Conflict of Laws, § 378 et seq.) It was assumed that the law of the place of the wrong created the cause of action and necessarily determined the extent of the liability ( Slater v. Mexican Nat. R.R. Co., 194 U.S. 120, 126 [ 48 L.Ed. 900, 902, 24 S.Ct. 581].) Aside from procedural difficulties (see Currie, Selected Essays on Conflict of Laws (1963) pp. 10-18), this theory worked well enough when all the relevant events took place in one jurisdiction, but the action was brought in another. [1] In a complex situation involving multi-state contacts, however, no single state alone can be deemed to create exclusively governing rights. ( Crider v. Zurich Ins. Co., 380 U.S. 39, 42 [ 13 L.Ed.2d 641, 643, 85 S.Ct. 769]; Clay v. Sun Ins. Office, Ltd., 377 U.S. 179, 181-182 [ 12 L.Ed.2d 229, 231, 84 S.Ct. 1197]; Watson v. Employers Liab. Corp., 348 U.S. 66, 72-73 [ 99 L.Ed. 74, 81-82, 75 S.Ct. 166].) The forum must search to find the proper law to apply based upon the interests of the litigants and the involved states. Such complex cases elucidate what the simpler cases obscured, namely, that the forum can only apply its own law. (See Lein v. Parkin, 49 Cal.2d 397 [ 318 P.2d 1]; Grant v. McAuliffe, 41 Cal.2d 859 [ 264 P.2d 944, 42 A.L.R.2d 1162]; W.W. Cook, The Logical and Legal Basis of Conflict of Laws (1942) pp. 20-21; Cavers, Two "Local Law" Theories, 63 Harv. L. Rev. 822-824.) When it purports to do otherwise, it is not enforcing foreign rights but choosing a foreign rule of decision as the appropriate one to apply to the case before it. Moreover, it has now been demonstrated that a choice of law resulting from a hopeless search for a governing foreign law to create a foreign vested right may defeat the legitimate interests of the litigants and the states involved. (See, generally, Cavers, The Choice of Law Process (1965); Currie, Selected Essays on Conflict of Laws, supra; Ehrenzweig, Conflict of Laws (1962).)

Accordingly, when application of the law of the place of the wrong would defeat the interests of the litigants and of the states concerned, we have not applied that law. ( Grant v. McAuliffe, supra, 41 Cal.2d 859, 867; Emery v. Emery, 45 Cal.2d 421, 428 [ 289 P.2d 218].) Grant was an action for personal injuries arising out of an automobile accident in Arizona between California residents. The driver whose negligence caused the accident died, and the court had to choose between the California rule that allowed an action against the personal representative and the Arizona rule that did not. We held that since "all of the parties were residents of this state, and the estate of the deceased tortfeasor is being administered in this state, plaintiffs' right to prosecute their causes of action is governed by the laws of this state relating to administration of estates." Under these circumstances application of the law of the place of the wrong would not only have defeated California's interest and that of its residents but would have advanced no interest of Arizona or its residents. ( Grant v. McAuliffe, supra, 41 Cal.2d at 867.) In Emery members of a California family were injured in Idaho when another member of the family who was driving lost control of the car and it went off the road. The question was whether Idaho or California law determined when one member of a family was immune from tort liability to another. We applied the law of the family domicile rather than the law of the place of the wrong. "That state has the primary responsibility for establishing and regulating the incidents of the family relationship and it is the only state in which the parties can, by participation in the legislative processes, effect a change in those incidents. Moreover, it is undesirable that the rights, duties, disabilities, and immunities conferred or imposed by the family relationship should constantly change as members of the family cross state boundaries during temporary absences from their home." ( 45 Cal.2d at p. 428.)

Defendant contends, however, that there were compelling reasons in the Grant and Emery cases for departing from the law of the place of the wrong and that such reasons are not present in this case. He urges that application of that law promotes uniformity of decisions, prevents forum shopping, and avoids the uncertainties that may result from ad hoc searches for a more appropriate law in this and similar cases.

[2] Ease of determining applicable law and uniformity of rules of decision, however, must be subordinated to the objective of proper choice of law in conflict cases, i.e., to determine the law that most appropriately applies to the issue involved (see Leflar, Choice — Influencing Considerations In Conflicts Law (1966) 41 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 267, 279-282). Moreover, as jurisdiction after jurisdiction has departed from the law of the place of the wrong as the controlling law in tort cases, regardless of the issue involved (see Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 381-384 [ 3 L.Ed.2d 368, 387-389, 79 S.Ct. 468] [Admiralty]; Wartell v. Formusa (1966) 34 Ill.2d 57 [ 213 N.E.2d 544]; W.H. Barber Co. v. Hughes (1945) 223 Ind. 570 [ 63 N.E.2d 417]; Wessling v. Paris (Ky.App. 1967) 417 S.W.2d 259; Clark v. Clark (1966) 107 N.H. 351 [ 222 A.2d 205]; Babcock v. Jackson, 12 N.Y.2d 473 [ 191 N.E.2d 279, 95 A.L.R.2d 1]; Casey v. Manson Constr. Engineering Co. (1967) ___ Ore. ___ [ 428 P.2d 898]; Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc. (1964) 416 Pa. 1 [ 203 A.2d 796]; Haumschild v. Continental Cas. Co., 7 Wis.2d 130 [ 95 N.W.2d 814]), that law no longer affords even a semblance of the general application that was once thought to be its great virtue. We conclude that the law of the place of the wrong is not necessarily the applicable law for all tort actions brought in the courts of this state. Loranger v. Nadeau, supra, 215 Cal. 362, 366; Ryan v. North Alaska Salmon Co., supra, 153 Cal. 438, and other cases to the contrary are overruled.

[3] As the forum we must consider all of the foreign and domestic elements and interests involved in this case to determine the rule applicable. Three states are involved. Ohio is where plaintiffs and their decedents resided before the accident and where the decedents' estates are being administered. Missouri is the place of the wrong. California is the place where defendant resides and is the forum. Although plaintiffs now reside in California, their residence and domicile at the time of the accident are the relevant residence and domicile. At the time of the accident the plans to change the family domicile were not definite and fixed, and if the choice of law were made to turn on events happening after the accident, forum shopping would be encouraged. (See Cavers, op. cit., supra, p. 151, fn. 16.) Accordingly, plaintiffs' present domicile in California does not give this state any interest in applying its law, and since California has no limitation of damages, it also has no interest in applying its law on behalf of defendant. As a forum that is therefore disinterested in the only issue in dispute, we must decide whether to adopt the Ohio or the Missouri rule as the rule of decision for this case.

Missouri is concerned with conduct within her borders and as to such conduct she has the predominant interest of the states involved. Limitations of damages for wrongful death, however, have little or nothing to do with conduct. They are concerned not with how people should behave but with how survivors should be compensated. The state of the place of the wrong has little or no interest in such compensation when none of the parties reside there. Wrongful death statutes create causes of action in specified beneficiaries and distribute the proceeds to those beneficiaries. The proceeds in the hands of the beneficiaries are not distributed through the decedent's estate and, therefore, are not subject to the claims of the decedent's creditors and consequently do not provide a fund for local creditors. Accordingly, the interest of a state in a wrongful death action insofar as plaintiffs are concerned is in determining the distribution of proceeds to the beneficiaries and that interest extends only to local decedents and beneficiaries. (Currie, op. cit., supra, pp. 690, 702.) Missouri's limitation on damages expresses an additional concern for defendants, however, in that it operates to avoid the imposition of excessive financial burdens on them. That concern is also primarily local and we fail to perceive any substantial interest Missouri might have in extending the benefits of its limitation of damages to travelers from states having no similar limitation. Defendant's liability should not be limited when no party to the action is from a state limiting liability and when defendant, therefore, would have secured insurance, if any, without any such limit in mind. A defendant cannot reasonably complain when compensatory damages are assessed in accordance with the law of his domicile and plaintiffs receive no more than they would had they been injured at home. (See Cavers, op. cit., supra, pp. 153-157.) Under these circumstances giving effect to Ohio's interests in affording full recovery to injured parties does not conflict with any substantial interest of Missouri. (Cf. Bernkrant v. Fowler, 55 Cal.2d 588, 595 [ 12 Cal.Rptr. 266, 360 P.2d 906].) Accordingly, the Missouri limitation does not apply. (Accord: Gianni v. Fort Wayne Air Service, Inc. (7th Cir. 1965) 342 F.2d 621; Watts v. Pioneer Corn Co. (7th Cir. 1965) 342 F.2d 617; Pearson v. Northeast Airlines, Inc. (2d Cir. 1962) 309 F.2d 553, 92 A.L.R.2d 1162; Fabricius v. Horgen (1965) 257 Iowa 268 [ 132 N.W.2d 410]; Farber v. Smolack (N.Y. 1967) 36 U.S.L. Week 2075; Long v. Pan American World Airways, Inc. (1965) 16 N.Y.2d 337 [ 213 N.E.2d 796]; Kilberg v. Northeast Airlines, Inc., 9 N.Y.2d 34 [ 172 N.E.2d 526]; Griffith v. United Air Lines, Inc., supra, 416 Pa. 1.)

The part of the judgment appealed from is reversed with directions to the trial court to enter judgment for the plaintiffs in the amount of $55,000 in accordance with the stipulations of the parties.

McComb, J., Peters, J., Tobriner, J., Mosk, J., Burke, J., and Sullivan, J., concurred.

On November 29, 1967, the opinion was modified to read as printed above.


Summaries of

Reich v. Purcell

Supreme Court of California
Oct 30, 1967
67 Cal.2d 551 (Cal. 1967)

holding that California had no interest in applying its laws to suit involving automobile accident that occurred in Missouri when plaintiffs were domiciled in Ohio, not California

Summary of this case from North v. Samsung SDI Am., Inc.

holding that a plaintiff's "residence and domicile at the time of the accident are the relevant residence and domicile" because a different holding might encourage forum shopping

Summary of this case from Brinkman v. Schweizer Aircraft Corp.

finding no true conflict and stating "A defendant cannot reasonably complain when compensatory damages are asserted in accordance with the law of his domicile and plaintiffs receive no more than they would have had they been injured at home."

Summary of this case from Aortech Int'l PLC v. Maguire

concluding California was "disinterested" in a dispute where its only connection was plaintiffs after-acquired residence

Summary of this case from Huynh v. Chase Manhattan Bank

vacating 58 Cal Rptr 800

Summary of this case from DeFoor v. Lematta

rejecting the "law of the place of the wrong" rule

Summary of this case from CRS Recovery, Inc. v. Laxton

rejecting law of Missouri, where accident occurred, with respect to damage limitations; "the interest of a state in a wrongful death action insofar as plaintiffs are concerned is in determining the distribution of proceeds to the beneficiaries and that interest extends only to local decedents and beneficiaries"

Summary of this case from Matter of Estate of Gilmore

In Reich, the wrongful death action arose from an automobile accident that occurred in Missouri between an Ohio plaintiff and a California defendant.

Summary of this case from Reyno v. Piper Aircraft Co.

In Purcell, the court considered the relevant interests of the respective states in the transaction and in the parties and held that it would apply the law which most reasonably served the interests of the state having the more substantial interest to be served in the particular litigation.

Summary of this case from Summers v. Interstate Tractor and Equipment Co.

In Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967), the California Supreme Court held that the forum "must search to find the proper law to apply based upon the interests of the litigants and the involved states."

Summary of this case from Franklin Supply Company v. Tolman

In Reich, 67 Cal. 2d 551, Ohio residents sought to recover in a wrongful death action and injury resulting from an automobile collision in Missouri with an automobile owned and operated by the defendant who was a California resident.

Summary of this case from Munguia v. Bekins Van Lines, LLC

In Reich, a 1967 decision, the plaintiffs — Mr. Reich and one of his children — filed a wrongful death action after Mrs. Reich and the Reichs' other child were killed in an automobile accident while traveling through Missouri.

Summary of this case from Butler v. Adoption Media, LLC

prohibiting application of law of the place where tort occurred, if that result "would defeat the interests of the litigants and of the states concerned"

Summary of this case from Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co.

In Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967), two vehicles headed in different directions across the country collided, one from Ohio (a mother and son were killed) and one from California. Representatives of the deceased mother and son moved to California and later filed a wrongful death suit there. The conflict of laws question arose since Missouri (the place of the accident) limited wrongful death damages to $25,000 while neither Ohio (residence of decedents) nor California (forum and the residence of defendant and, later, plaintiffs representatives) had a limit.

Summary of this case from Horowitz v. Schneider Nat., Inc.

In Reich, the court renounced the common law conflicts approach in torts cases of applying the law of the forum where a tort occurred.

Summary of this case from Stan Lee Trading, Inc. v. Holtz

In Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967), California abandoned the rule that the controlling law was the law of the place where the tort occurred.

Summary of this case from Browne v. McDonnell Douglas Corporation

In Reich, the California Supreme Court held that in a wrongful death action brought in California by residents of Ohio following an automobile accident in Missouri, defendant's liability should not be limited to the $25,000 maximum under Missouri law, where California had no interest in applying its own laws, which did not contain a statutory limitation of damages, and where the substantial interests of Ohio, also without a statutory limitation on damages, did not conflict with any substantial interest of Missouri.

Summary of this case from Klingebiel v. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

In Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967) the opinion was written by Mr. Chief Justice Traynor. Actions were brought in the California courts for wrongful deaths of Ohio residents who had been killed in Missouri in collision with an automobile owned and operated by a California resident.

Summary of this case from Williams v. Texas Kenworth Company

In Reich, supra, 67 Cal.2d 551, for example, the plaintiffs filed a wrongful death action in California as a result of an automobile accident that occurred in Missouri.

Summary of this case from Kearney v. Barney

In Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 556, 432 P.2d 727, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31 (1967), Chief Justice Traynor, speaking with regard to statutory limitations on wrongful death damages, noted: "Limitations of damages... have little or nothing to do with conduct.

Summary of this case from O'Connor v. O'Connor

In Reich this court carefully separated these two state interests, although it referred to them in the same paragraph. The state interest in creating a cause of action for wrongful death is in "determining the distribution of proceeds to the beneficiaries"; the state interest in limiting damage is "to avoid the imposition of excessive financial burdens on them [defendants]."

Summary of this case from Hurtado v. Superior Court

In Reich v. Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 63 Cal.Rptr. 31, 432 P.2d 727 (1967), commented on by Cavers, Cheatham, D. Currie, Ehrenzweig, Gorman, Horowitz, Kay, Leflar, Rosenberg, Scoles, Trautman, and Weintraub in 15 U.C.L.A.L. Rev. 551 (1968), the California Supreme Court was faced with a situation similar in principle to the present case.

Summary of this case from Pfau v. Trent Aluminum Co.

declining to treat survivors in wrongful death suit as residents because they moved to California after accident

Summary of this case from Tullis v. Georgia-Pacific

In Reich v Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551; 63 Cal.Rptr. 31; 432 P.2d 727 (1967), the Supreme Court of California was asked to apply California law where a family was involved in an automobile accident in Missouri while on their way from their home in Ohio to consider relocating to California. (The two members of the family who survived and maintained the wrongful death suit did later move to California and filed suit there.)

Summary of this case from Hall v. General Motors

In Reich v Purcell, 67 Cal.2d 551, 555; 63 Cal.Rptr. 31; 432 P.2d 727 (1967), the California Supreme Court rejected the lex loci delicti rule in favor of the more modern approach of most significant relationship.

Summary of this case from Branyan v. Alpena Flying Serv
Case details for

Reich v. Purcell

Case Details

Full title:LEE REICH, Individually and as Administrator, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and…

Court:Supreme Court of California

Date published: Oct 30, 1967

Citations

67 Cal.2d 551 (Cal. 1967)
63 Cal. Rptr. 31
432 P.2d 727

Citing Cases

Hernandez v. Burger

For purposes of appeal, liability on the part of defendants is admitted. The sole question, therefore, is…

Kearney v. Barney

If such a conflict is found to exist, the court analyzes the jurisdictions' respective interests to determine…