United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 6, 2005.
SUSAN D. ERB, Administratrix of the Estate of BARBARA JO BUCK, deceased, Plaintiff,
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
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.
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.
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 do
not contain any damages-limiting language equivalent to that of
the Indiana statute. See 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 8301-02. Thus, there
are significant differences between Indiana and Pennsylvania law
regarding claims, liability, and damages.
Difference in laws alone, however, is not what creates a true
conflict in a matter; a true conflict is present "when the
governmental interests of [multiple] jurisdictions would be
impaired if their law were not applied." Budget, 407 F.3d at 170 (quoting Lacey, 932 F.2d at 187 n. 15) (emphasis added).
Surely, Pennsylvania has an interest in ensuring proper
recovery for two deceased Pennsylvania residents and the
administrators of their estates. See Griffith v. United Air
Lines, Inc., 203 A.2d 796, 807 (Pa. 1964) (citing Pennsylvania
Constitution). The Pennsylvania statutes discussed above forward
Defendant contends that Indiana has an interest in seeing that
its laws are applied in this case as well. The defendant states
"[w]ith respect to the law of liability, Indiana has tremendous
interest in regulating the conduct of those within its borders."
(Rec. Doc. No. 31, at 15.) However, we find that the bulk of
defendant's arguments about Indiana's governmental interest in
applying its laws collapses into an argument in support of
Indiana laws because Indiana was the location of the accident.
Defendant argues that Indiana's laws on damages provide
defendants acting and doing business within Indiana some
reasonable degree of predictability. However, we are not
convinced, and defendants have not provided authority that
demonstrates, that the Indiana legislature's purpose in passing
these laws was to protect non-resident defendants involved in
motor vehicle accidents within the state. "A state's laws are
generally not construed as favoring non-resident tort-feasor over
non-resident victims and their survivors." Doyle v. Brazeau Transport (International), Inc., 1987 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 3331, at *15 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 28, 1987) (Broderick, J)
(citations omitted); cf. Blakesley v. Wolford, 789 F.2d 236,
242-43 (3d Cir. 1986) (discussing, Cipolla v. Shaposka,
439 Pa. 563 (1970), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court "held that when
a defendant acts within his home state, he may properly rely on
that state's defendant-protecting law") (emphasis added). We find
it much more likely that decisions regarding the types of claims,
scope of liability, and caps on damages were meant to protect
This case presents a false conflict.*fn4 We find this to
be a case in which the accident is wholly fortuitous; and that
Indiana, the site of the accident, is not an interested
jurisdiction as to the issues of law relating to substantive
liability and compensatory damages. A false conflict also exists
on the issue of punitive damages, but we find that in that case
Indiana is the only interested jurisdiction. As discussed below,
as to the issue of punitive damages, we find that Pennsylvania
has no interest in punishing conduct that occurred outside of its
The accident involved two non-residents of Indiana, both of
whom were driving through the state on the federal interstate. This case is
nearly on all-fours with several cases cited by plaintiff, in
which no party is domiciled in the state where the injury
occurred. See, e.g., Breskman v. BCB, Inc.,
708 F. Supp. 655, 658 (E.D. Pa. 1988) (fact that accident occurred in Maryland
between two non-residents is "simply the result of random chance
and offers little if any real connection of that state with the
conflict between these parties"); Flora v. Ferguson, 1990 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 1168, at *11 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 2, 1990) (Powers III,
M.J.) ("[I]n the case at bar, the plaintiff driver and the
defendant driver were both traveling north on Interstate 95,
neither was destined for Maryland, and the fact that an accident
occurred there was merely fortuitous."); Doyle, 1987 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 3331, at *16.
Defendant concedes that in cases involving airplane crashes the
site of accident is fortuitous, but asserts that in the instant
case, plaintiffs voluntarily and intentionally chose to drive
through Indiana.*fn5 We find this to be a distinction without a difference. As with the courts in the cases cited
above, we are not persuaded that plaintiffs' decision to travel
through Indiana by car on federal interstates eliminates the
fortuity of the accident.
In Kuchinic v. McCrory, 222 A.2d 897 (Pa. 1966), a seminal
false conflict case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court discussed
fortuity. Although the case involved a plane accident in Georgia,
and involved only Pennsylvania parties returning from a trip to
Florida, the court in determining that Georgia's guest-host law
was inapplicable to the case noted that the Georgia legislature,
in enacting the guest statute, "most assuredly did not mean to
encourage the exercise of less than due care by those who use its
highways or airways." Id. at 900. (emphasis added). The
Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that "under no stretch of the
imagination could Georgia be considered an interested
Defendant has suggested that several possible non-parties may
be liable for the accident, and that their identities make
Indiana a more interested jurisdiction. We are not persuaded by
defendant's arguments that non-parties alleged to have caused or
contributed to the accident, i.e. the State of Indiana and the
construction company working in the construction zone, give
Indiana a governmental interest in the action. As the matter currently stands they are non-parties.
Furthermore, defendant has not asserted that Indiana's motor
vehicle "rules of the road" differ in any material way from those
of Pennsylvania, and Indiana can still regulate the conduct of
drivers on its roads through its prosecutorial authority to
address crimes committed within its borders.
Finally, defendant contends that punitive damages are not
available to plaintiff. Defendant asserts that Pennsylvania is
constitutionally prohibited from punishing conduct that occurred
in Indiana. (Rec. Doc. No. 31, at 15 & Rec. Doc. No. 40, at 8.)
Therefore, defendant argues, that as a federal court sitting with
diversity jurisdiction, we are prohibited from applying punitive
damages under Pennsylvania law. Meanwhile, plaintiffs' brief
asserts that the court should decline to apply Indiana's
prohibition against punitive damages in a wrongful death suit,
See 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).
The choice of law issue as to punitive damages is more
complicated than the false conflict that exists as to substantive
liability law and compensatory damages law in this case.
Defendant's argument against the imposition of Pennsylvania's
punitive damages statute is grounded in issues of comity. Cf.
Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., 216 F.3d 338, 348 n. 15 (3d Cir. 2000).
The United States Supreme Court in State Farm Mutual Auto
Insurance Company v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003), stated that
"[n]or, as a general rule, does a State have a legitimate concern
in imposing punitive damages to punish a defendant for unlawful
acts committed outside of the State's jurisdiction." Id. at
Pennsylvania allows for punitive damages to "punish wrongdoers
and deter future conduct." Calhoun, 216 F.3d at 348. Therefore,
punitive damages are more akin to criminal law. In State Farm,
the United States Supreme Court stated:
A basic principle of federalism is that each State
may make its own reasoned judgment about what conduct
is permitted or proscribed within its borders, and
each State alone can determine what measure of
punishment, if any, to impose on a defendant who acts
within its jurisdiction.
State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 538 U.S. at 422.
We find that in light of State Farm, as to the law
governing punitive damages in this case, the law of Indiana, the
site of the accident, must apply. Indiana has a significant
interest in maintaining the safety of its roads. See Calhoun,
216 F.3d at 343 & n. 15 (stating court's inquiry is into "whether
the state in which the injury occurred has a dominant interest
in the application of its law on punitive damages as compared to
the state of the plaintiff's domicile"). Therefore, all aspects
of a claim for punitive damages must comply with Indiana law. ORDER
For the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum,
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. Plaintiffs' motion for a determination that Pennsylvania law
will apply to the issues in this case is granted, in that
Pennsylvania law will govern plaintiff's compensatory damages and
the substantive laws of liability upon which such damages are based. (Rec. Doc. No. 38.)
2. Defendant's motion for a determination that Indiana law will
apply to the issues in this cased is denied, except that Indiana
law will apply to any claims for punitive damages that plaintiffs
may advance, including any standards that may govern such a
claim. (Rec. Doc. No. 24.)
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