Appellate Court Holds Illinois Law Applies to Michigan Car Crash – Murphy v. Mancari’s Chrysler Plymouth

Legal venue is an important issue in many personal injury lawsuits, especially when the different states have different laws. In the product liability lawsuit of Joseph Murphy v. Mancari’s Chrysler Plymouth, Inc., No. 1-10-2178 (March 31, 2011), the Illinois Appellate Court sought to answer the question of whether Michigan law or Illinois law governed the case regarding issues of liability and damages.

The car accident at issue in Murphy occurred in Michigan. However, the plaintiff driver and the defendant car dealership where the plaintiff bought his car both were located in Illinois. The court then had to decide where the personal injury lawsuit should be heard – in Michigan, where the accident occurred, or in Illinois, where the plaintiff driver lived and worked.

Where the lawsuit was filed, or “choice-of-law,” would be critical to the eventual outcome of Murphy because of the major differences in Michigan and Illinois law. When deciding product liability issues, Illinois law applies a strict liability rule, whereas Michigan law applies a pure negligence standard. This means that Illinois defendants cannot effectively argue that they were unaware of the risk of the design defect, whereas this could be a successful defense in Michigan where the standard of care is set by similar manufacturers. In addition, Michigan imposes a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages in any product liability lawsuits, whereas Illinois has no such cap on damages.

Generally, the place where an accident occurs decides where the case is filed; Murphy’s accident took place in Michigan. However, there is an exception to this rule: if a different state can be shown to have a “more significant relationship” with the occurrence and involved parties, then that state is where the lawsuit is filed.

In order to determine the appropriate choice-of-law, the Illinois Appellate Court applied §6(2) and §145(1) of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws when conducting its significant-relationship test. The Second Restatement examines the nature of the various contacts that can establish the choice-of-law, while “ensur[ing] that a court is not merely ‘counting contacts,’ and that each contact is meaningful in light of the policies sought to be vindicated by the conflicting laws.”
The appellate court then reviewed the various case facts in order to determine the choice-of-law. Event though the car accident occurred in Michigan, the plaintiff lived and worked in Illinois. In addition, Mancari’s Chrysler Plymouth, the car dealership where the plaintiff bought his Chrysler Sebring convertible and the defendant in the product defect lawsuit, was located in Oak Lawn, Illinois. The product defect lawsuit alleged that the car dealership was negligent in that it failed to warn Murphy that its vehicle was “not equipped with a sufficient roll bar or other devices to protect a driver from traumatic injuries in a reasonably foreseeable rollover.” Therefore, the claims of negligence involved events that occurred in Illinois.

After reviewing all the case facts, the appellate court found that the contacts suggested that Illinois had a more significant relationship to the action and parties than Michigan. In addition to considering the Second Restatement, the Illinois appellate court relied heavily on Townsend v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 227 Ill. 2d 147 (2007), a liability lawsuit where the Illinois Supreme Court also reviewed whether Michigan or Illinois law applied in a product liability and negligence matter. Both the appellate court and supreme court reached similar conclusions, i.e., that “Illinois law governs the issues of liability and damages.”
Illinois Supreme Court Rules No Negligent Auto Design, Reversing $43 Million Verdict in Jablonski v. Ford Motor

Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois automotive defect cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Chicago’s Saugatuck neighborhood, Cicero, Palos Heights, and Matteson.

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