Tennessee Law Applied Over Virginia Law in Case Filed in Rhode Island; Tort Factors and Interest Factors Both Supported Tennessee Law Superior Court of Rhode Island, January 18, 2017

The plaintiffs alleged both direct and secondary exposure to asbestos by Harold Murray, leading to his development of mesothelioma. Mr. Murray worked in both Tennessee and Virginia. The plaintiffs lived in Tennessee. The defendants filed a motion to apply the law of Tennessee, while the plaintiffs argued for Virginia law. The court ruled that Tennessee was the correct choice of law.

The defendants argued that under Rhode Island choice-of-law principles, Tennessee law applied; the plaintiffs were domiciled in Tennessee, the plaintiff was diagnosed in Tennessee, treated in Tennessee, and the majority of his asbestos exposure occurred in Tennessee. Applying Rhode Island law violated the U.S. Constitution because the forum state lacked sufficient minimum contacts. The plaintiffs argued that Virginia had the most significant relationship to this case, because most of plaintiff’s earlier exposures occurred in Virginia; policy reasons dictated the application of Virginia law because Tennessee law would result in less favorable results for the plaintiffs.

The court conducted a choice-of-law analysis; if the laws of two states were in true conflict, the court would apply Rhode Island’s interest-weighing approach. Under this approach, five factors were considered: (1) predictability of result; (2) maintenance of interstate and international order; (3) simplification of the judicial task; (4) advancement of the forum’s governmental interests; and (5) application of the better rules of law. Additionally for torts, the court examined: (1) the place where the injury occurred; (2) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred; (3) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties; and (4) the place where the relationship between the parties, if any, was centered.

At the outset the court determined that true conflicts existed between the substantive laws of Tennessee and Virginia such that an interest-weighing analysis must be done. Regarding the tort factors, the place of injury was Tennessee —he was diagnosed, treated, and resided in Tennessee. Second, plaintiff was domiciled in Tennessee as he has lived in Tennessee for 47 years. Thus, the law of Tennessee was more appropriate law under these tort factors. Regarding the state interest factors, Tennessee law was more appropriate: (1) the predictability of results was better because the plaintiff was a long-time resident; (2) it would maintain interstate order; (3) it would not overly stress the judicial task; and (4) it would advance the state’s interests in its citizens’ cases.

Finally, “this Court also finds that Tennessee’s substantive laws are the better rule of law because Tennessee has the most significant degree of contact with any of the parties involved, and Tennessee’s laws do not outright prevent recovery in this case.” Further, there were significant contacts between the plaintiffs and Tennessee in order to avoid violating constitutional rights.

Read the full decision here.

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