799. Although the plaintiff characterized his action as founded on breach of contract -- in order to avoid the effect of a Colorado statute limiting recovery in wrongful death actions -- the Court recognized that the "recovery sought is clearly a tort recovery -- damages to decedent's estate as a result of decedent's negligently caused death." 203 A. 2d at 800. In spite of the contract label supplied by the plaintiff, the cause of action asserted in Griffith was viewed by the Court as founded in tort, rather than contract. There is, however, no indication in Griffith that the Court's justification of the significant contacts principle was limited to cases of tort.
In Mannke v. Benjamin Moore & Co., 375 F.2d 281 (3rd Cir. 1967) the Third Circuit followed Griffith in holding that the validity of a release must be tested according to the law of the jurisdiction which was the "center of gravity" of the contest and which had "the most significant contacts with the matter in dispute." 375 F.2d at 283. In light of Mannke v. Benjamin Moore, Griffith, and other recent decisions,
I conclude that the grouping of contacts principle of Griffith should be applied to resolve the choice of law problems regarding the release in question.
The contacts of the various jurisdictions with the occurrences and parties may be identified as follows:
Except for her absences from the state while accompanying her husband on tours of military duty, the defendant apparently has been a lifetime resident of Pennsylvania. The insurance company which negotiated the release in question apparently has a place of business in Pennsylvania.
Finally, Pennsylvania is the forum of the present litigation.
As previously noted, the accident involving Robin Weddington occurred in Germany, and the release in question was executed in Germany. At the time of the accident and the execution of the release, the plaintiff, her parents, and the defendant resided in Germany. At the time of the accident, the defendant was licensed to operate an automobile by the United States military command, pursuant to authorization by the government of Germany.
The plaintiff presently resides in Indiana with her mother.
To select the jurisdiction whose law should govern determination of the validity of the release in question, Griffith and its progeny require the identification of the jurisdiction with the most significant contacts with the parties and occurrences in question. By this standard, it is clear that Germany has the most significant contacts with the parties and occurrences in question; therefore, the validity of the release before me should be measured by the law of Germany. The accident occurred and the release in question was executed in Germany. The plaintiff, her parents, and the defendant resided in Germany at the time of the accident and the execution of the release. In summary, the occurrences crucial to the present litigation all occurred in Germany, while all of the parties to the release resided there. As against this significant grouping of contacts with Germany, the contacts of the other jurisdictions do not appear substantial. The Republic of Germany has a legitimate and clear interest in the application of its law to settlements entered into in Germany regarding accidents occurring in Germany. Parties entering into settlement agreements in Germany should be able to do so with confidence in the validity and stability of the agreement as measured by German law. The prompt and equitable settlement of disputes occurring within its jurisdiction is a strong and valid interest of Germany in the application of its law in the present context. The encouragement of an orderly and reasonable process for the settlement of disputes is also a policy beneficial to potential claimants who are injured in Germany. In light of Germany's
significant contacts with, and interest in, the present controversy, this Court concludes that "justice and the best practical result" will be obtained by the application of the law of Germany to measure the validity of the present release.
The plaintiff contends that, even if German law is applicable because of Germany's significant contacts with the transaction, Pennsylvania would nevertheless refuse to give effect to the release in question because it was entered into without court approval, in violation of the fundamental public policy of Pennsylvania requiring judicial approval of a minor's tort claim settlement.
While I leave open the issue as to whether the release is valid under German law, I do rule now that if it is established that the release is valid under German law, it will be valid and enforceable under Pennsylvania law -- even though it was not a court approved settlement. It is true that in regard to a transaction with which Pennsylvania has the most significant contacts, Pennsylvania law would require judicial approval of any settlement of a minor's claim for personal injuries. In the present action, however, I have already determined that Germany, rather than Pennsylvania, has the most significant contacts with the parties and occurrences in question, and therefore, the most substantial interest in the application of its own national law to measure the validity of the release in question.
In this posture, the release, if valid under German law, could be found invalid in Pennsylvania only if its enforcement would contravene the express public policy of the forum. Pennsylvania will give effect to divorce decrees valid under the laws of Mexico and Nevada, even though the particular requirements for obtaining a divorce in these jurisdictions are less stringent than in Pennsylvania. Commonwealth ex rel. Thompson v. Yarnell, 313 Pa. 244, 169 A. 370 (1934); Sandman v. Sandman, 81 Montg. 177 (1961); Williams v. North Carolina, 325 U.S. 226, 65 S. Ct. 1092, 89 L. Ed. 1577 (1945). Also, it has been stated that "the settled policy of the Commonwealth, as declared in its legislation, has been opposed to gambling in any form." In re Trombetta, 188 Pa. Super. 480, 149 A. 2d 483, aff'd 397 Pa. 430, 156 A. 2d 107, appeal dismissed 363 U.S. 720, 80 S. Ct. 1596, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1521. Yet "in [an] action on [a] contract for sale of punch boards executed and performed by delivery to common carrier in Illinois, unless the fact that Illinois is the State of performance is challenged * * * there is no reason why under the principles of comity the law of Illinois should not be recognized as governing the contract, thus permitting its enforcement in Pennsylvania as a contract legal at the place of making and performance." Pioneer Mfg. Co. v. Bonnert, 89 Pa. Dist. & Co. R. 2d 275 (1964).
If divorces obtained in Mexico and Nevada and contracts dealing with gambling equipment can be given effect in Pennsylvania without contravening the fundamental public policy of the forum, then the present release, if valid under German law, should similarly be given effect in Pennsylvania.
In conclusion, I find that the settlement of a minor's tort claim, entered into with the advice of counsel and with the consent of both parents, but without court approval, should not be denied enforcement in Pennsylvania if it is valid under the law of Germany. It should be recognized that under German law, a party apparently is not bound by a compromise settlement "where the indemnification in view of developments which had not been foreseen is manifestly out of proportion."
Thus, while not requiring prior judicial approval of the settlement of a minor's tort claim, German law does permit subsequent judicial inquiry into the substantial fairness of a settlement, with the possibility that the settlement may be modified or overturned if the required showing of disproportionality is made. Pennsylvania has adopted one procedure -- that of prior judicial approval -- as a prerequisite to the validity of the settlement of a minor's tort claim. Germany has not adopted this identical procedure, but I cannot conclude that the failure to include this identical procedure -- in regard to a release signed in Germany regarding events transpiring in Germany -- renders the release invalid and unenforceable under the law of Pennsylvania -- especially where German law permits subsequent judicial inquiry into the substantial fairness of the settlement. Once it has been determined that a jurisdiction has a substantial interest in the application of its own law, principles of comity indicate that the forum should be reluctant to nullify an agreement which is valid under the laws of the most concerned jurisdiction. For these reasons, I conclude that the enforcement of the present release, if it is valid under German law, would not violate the public policy of Pennsylvania.
Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied.