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ERB v. ROADWAY EXPRESS

September 6, 2005.

SUSAN D. ERB, Administratrix of the Estate of BARBARA JO BUCK, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
ROADWAY EXPRESS, INC. Defendant. MICHAEL L. LONGNECKER, Administrator of the Estate of AUDREY M. LONGNECKER, deceased, Plaintiff, v. ROADWAY EXPRESS, INC. Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES McCLURE, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

BACKGROUND:

This consolidated diversity action arises out of a multi-vehicle accident in Indiana allegedly caused in some part by a tractor-trailer operated by an employee of defendant Roadway Express, Inc. Plaintiffs are the administrators, respectively, of the estates of a driver and passenger of one vehicle involved in the accident. On April 19, 2005, the court denied defendant's motion to dismiss and its alternative motion to transfer. On June 23, 2005, the court denied defendant's motion to amend that order to provide for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

  Now before the court are the parties' motions in limine, in which the parties request a choice of law determination as to whether Indiana or Pennsylvania law applies. By advancing these positions, the parties agree that no other state's law should apply.*fn1 For the following reasons, the court will find that Pennsylvania law applies to any substantive liability and compensatory damage issues in the case, and that Indiana law applies to any claims for punitive damages in the case.

  RELEVANT FACTS:

  On August 13, 2004, a motor vehicle accident between the parties occurred in Terre Haute, Indiana. The accident involved a collision between a tractor-trailer and a pickup truck, but also involved several other vehicles and occurred in a construction zone. Immediately before the accident both parties were heading east on Interstate-70. The driver of the tractor-trailer, Lester Jackson, was an employee of defendant and was acting in the course of his employment at the time of the accident. The defendant, Roadway Express, Inc., is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Akron, Ohio. Audrey Longnecker and Barbara Jo Buck, the driver and passenger of the pickup truck, respectively, were killed in the accident. Both Longnecker and Buck were Pennsylvania residents, and were returning to Pennsylvania after a short vacation to Missouri.

  Defendants contend that several non-parties also contributed to the accident. These non-parties include the State of Indiana and the construction company working on a construction project at the scene of the accident.

  DISCUSSION:

  Sitting in Pennsylvania, we must apply Pennsylvania choice-of-law rules to determine which state's substantive law governs. See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496-97 (1941); On Air Entm't Corp. v. Nat'l Indem. Co., 210 F.3d 146, 149 (3d Cir. 2000). Under Pennsylvania's choice-of-law approach, we must first analyze the governmental interests of the interested states to determine if this case presents a true or false conflict of laws, or if it is an unprovided-for case. See Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc. v. Chappell, 407 F.3d 166, 170 (3d Cir. 2005); Cipolla v. Shaposka, 267 A.2d 854, 855-56 (1970).

  A true conflict exists when the governmental interests of the interested states would be impaired if their law were not applied. Budget, 407 F.3d at 170. If a true conflict exists, the court must apply the law of the state having the most significant contacts or relationships with the issues of the case. Id. The court determines which state has the most significant contacts or relationships by conducting a qualitative comparison of the contacts each state has with the facts of the case in light of the public policies underlying the issues of the case. See id.; Laconis v. Burlington County Bridge Comm'n, 583 A.2d 1218, 1222-23 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1990).

  A false conflict exists if only one state's governmental interests would be impaired by the application of the other state's law, or if the laws of the two states would yield the same result, thereby rendering the choice-of-law question unnecessary.*fn2 See Williams v. Stone, 109 F.3d 890, 893 (3d Cir. 1997); Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 187 (3d Cir. 1991). Of particular importance to the facts of this case, a false conflict exists "where the accident is fortuitous and the state where the accident occurred has no interest in the regulatory standard at issue." LeJeune v. Bliss-Salem, Inc., 85 F.3d 1069, 1071 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Reyno v. Piper Aircraft Co., 630 F.2d 149, 170 (3d Cir. 1980)). When presented with the first type of false conflict, the court "must apply the law of the state whose interest would be harmed if its law were not applied." Lacey, 932 F.2d at 187.

  In an unprovided-for case, no state's interests would be impaired if its law were not applied. Budget, 407 F.3d at 170. In such a case, the court must apply the law of the place where the wrong occurred. See id. (citing Miller v. Gay, 470 A.2d 1353, 1355-56 (Pa. Sup. Ct. 1983)).

  We have no difficulty in first concluding that there are significant differences between Indiana and Pennsylvania laws as they pertain to this action. For instance, Indiana law permits comparative fault to be apportioned to non-parties, while Pennsylvania law does not. Compare Ind. Code § 34-51-2-1 with Pa. C.S.A. § 7102. Indiana has barred joint and several liability, while Pennsylvania permits such liability in certain cases. Compare Ind. Code § 34-4-33-1 with 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102(b.1) (3) (iii). Also, Indiana only permits wrongful death claims in this circumstance, while Pennsylvania permits both wrongful death and survival claims. Compare Ind. Code §§ 34-23-1-1, 34-9-3-4 with Pa. C.S.A. §§ 8301-02.

  More towards the crux of the parties' motivations in filing their motions in limine, Indiana and Pennsylvania law on claims and damages greatly differ. Indiana's wrongful death statute prohibits awards in cases of the death of unmarried adults for a person's grief. Ind. Code § 34-23-1-2(c)(2)(A). Punitive damages are not recoverable in a wrongful death action in Indiana. Ind. Code § 34-23-1-2(c)(2)(B); Durham v. U-Haul Intern., 745 N.E.2d 755, 757 (Ind. 2001) (stating punitive damages not recoverable under wrongful death statute Ind. Code § 34-23-1-1). Indiana also imposes a $300,000 cap on damages for the loss of an unmarried adult's love and companionship. See Ind. Code § 34-23-1-2(d).*fn3 In contrast, Pennsylvania law permits awards for pain and suffering in survival actions, see Teamann v. Zafris, 811 A.2d 52, 64-65 (Pa. Commonw. Ct. 2002), and Pennsylvania's wrongful death and survival actions statutes ...


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