Lex Loci Delicti
Courts follow the traditional rule of lex loci delictus in determining which state’s substantive law is applicable to actions sounding in tort[i]. Lex loci delictus holds that the substantive law of the place where the tort occurs applies.
It is a recognized principle of the law of the conflict of laws that the law of the state where an alleged tort is completed controls the liability[ii]. Where a tort is committed in one state and sued on in another, the lex loci delicti principle controls[iii].
In Williams v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 229 Conn. 359 (Conn. 1994), the court held that the substantive rights and obligations arising out of a tort controversy are determined by the law of the place of injury, or lex loci delicti. Thus, under the principle of Lex Loci Delicti, a court will determine the substantive rights of an injured party according to the law of the state where the injury occurred[iv].
The lex loci rule is derived from the vested rights doctrine[v]. According to the vested rights doctrine, a plaintiff’s cause of action owes its creation to the law of the jurisdiction where the injury occurred and depends for its existence and extent solely on such law. Thus, where the tortious act and the resulting injury occur in different states, the rule is that the substantive law of the state where the injury occur controls.
Under the provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act which renders the U.S. liable for the torts of its employees, under circumstances where the U.S., if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred, federal courts are required to look in the first instance to the law of the place where the acts of negligence took place, and not to the law of the place where the negligence had its operative effect[vi].
In deciding non-federal questions, federal courts apply the law of the state in which they sit. Rules affecting the substance of a claim are governed by lex loci, the law of the situs of the claim[vii].
In Casey v. Manson Constr. & Engineering Co., 247 Ore. 274 (Or. 1967), the court held that in an action for a personal injury, the local law of the state where the injury occurred determines the rights and liabilities of the parties, unless some other state has a more significant relationship with the occurrence and the parties as to the particular issue involved, in which event the local law of the latter state will govern.
In Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1962), the court observed that the general conflict of laws rule, followed by a vast majority of the states, is to apply the law of the place of the injury to the substantive rights of the parties, but the recent tendency of some states has been to depart from this rule in order to take into account the interests of the state having significant contact with the parties to the litigation.
For actions sounding in tort, the state where the injury occurred is considered the situs of the claim. Thus, when the injury giving rise to a negligence or strict liability claim occurs in another state, the law of that state governs resolution of the substantive issues in the controversy[viii].
Although the substantive rights of the parties are determined by the law of the place of the injury under the traditional rule of lex loci delicti, for procedural matters, the law of the forum, or lex fori, applies. Also, law of the forum will be applied whenever the law of the place of the wrong is contrary to an extraordinarily strong public policy of the forum state.
Similarly, cases of tort arising upon the high seas between parties of different nationalities, in the admiralty courts of the U.S., will be governed by the law of the forum[ix]. Additionally, in a diversity case, the court is obligated to apply the law of the forum state, including the forum’s choice of law rules[x].
[i] Myers v. Hayes International Corp., 701 F. Supp. 618 (M.D. Tenn. 1988)
[ii] Strogoff v. Motor Sales Co., 302 Mass. 345 (Mass. 1939)
[iii] Western Union Tel. Co. v. Hill, 163 Ala. 18 (Ala. 1909)
[iv] Norris v. Taylor, 460 So. 2d 151 (Ala. 1984)
[v] Myers v. Hayes International Corp., 701 F. Supp. 618 (M.D. Tenn. 1988)
[vi] Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1962)
[vii] Eli Research Inc. v. United Communs. Group, LLC, 312 F. Supp. 2d 748 (M.D.N.C. 2004)
[viii] Boudreau v. Baughman, 322 N.C. 331 (N.C. 1988)
[ix] Rundell v. La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 100 F. 655 (7th Cir. Ill. 1900)
[x] Myers v. Hayes International Corp., 701 F. Supp. 618 (M.D. Tenn. 1988)