Question: What Law Governs A Car Accident?
Answer: Usually, Law Of The State In Which The Accident Occurs.
In 2012, Mr. Rexroad was driving a tractor-trailer in Hendricks County, Indiana when he began experiencing mechanical difficulties, pulled his tractor-trailer onto the right shoulder, and called for a tow truck. Lindsey Measel, an Indiana resident, was travelling on the same interstate and, as Rexroad’s tractor-trailer was being loaded on to the tow truck, Measel slowed her vehicle in the left-hand lane. Maples, who was driving a tractor-trailer directly behind Measel, was forced to change lanes in order to avoid striking Measel’s vehicle. As a result, Maples lost control of his tractor-trailer and collided with Rexroad’s vehicle. Rexroad died as a result of his injuries. At the time of the accident, Maples was operating his tractor-trailer in the course of his employment with Greenwood. Rexroad was survived by his wife, Cathy Rexroad, his children, Greta Rice, Cody Rexroad, Theresa Sutter, Janice Linder, and Arnold Rexroad, Jr., and his step-children, Shannon Bennett and Mark Gibson (collectively the “Plaintiffs”). On October 4, 2012, Plaintiffs, who are all Illinois residents, were named as special administrators of Rexroad’s estate. Plaintiffs brought suit against Greenwood alleging negligence in the operation of Maples’s vehicle resulting in Rexroad’s death. Measel was also named as a defendant in the complaint.
On June 16, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a memorandum with the trial court requesting that the trial court apply Illinois law to the case. Following a hearing on the choice-of-law question, the trial court determined that Indiana law would apply. The following day, during the final pre-trial conference, Greenwood admitted to being solely at fault for the accident and death of Rexroad. Greenwood’s stipulation to being at fault included a condition that it was effective only so long as Indiana law applied. Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Measel who was then dismissed from the case. Later, Plaintiffs filed a motion requesting the trial court to reconsider its ruling on the choice-of-law issue. On July 18, 2014, the trial court denied Plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider. This interlocutory appeal follows.
The only issue raised in this appeal is whether the trial court properly determined that Indiana law applies. The Indiana Supreme Court established an analysis for addressing choice-of-law questions. In tort cases, Indiana choice-of-law analysis now involves multiple inquiries. As a preliminary matter, the court must determine whether the differences between the laws of the states are ‘important enough to affect the outcome of the litigation. Here, the parties agree that there are substantial differences between Indiana and Illinois law. If such a conflict exists, the presumption is that the traditional lex loci delicti rule (the place of the wrong) will apply. Under this rule, the court applies the substantive laws of the the state where the last event necessary to make an actor liable for the alleged wrong takes place. This presumption is not conclusive, however. It may be overcome if the court is persuaded that “the place of the tort ‘bears little connection’ to this legal action.
Plaintiffs essentially argue that Greenwood’s admission of fault effectively negates the importance of the location of the accident and, consequently, the lex loci delecti presumption. We disagree. For one, this approach would cause peculiar results in cases such as this. At any point during litigation, if the defendant admits fault, then the applicable state law could change. Such a precedent would significantly discourage stipulations of fault. Furthermore, we think it would be improper to so easily disregard the lex loci delecti presumption. “People do not take the laws of their home state with them when they travel but are subject to the laws of the state in which they act.” Indiana law unquestionably applies to determine liability in this case. To apply another state’s laws to the issue of damages would require us to engage in dépeçage, which we cannot do. 36 N.E.3d 1181