O'Connor v. O'Connor

Decision Date23 December 1986
Docket NumberNo. 12770,12770
Citation519 A.2d 13,201 Conn. 632
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesRoseann C. O'CONNOR v. Brian O'CONNOR.

Kathryn Calibey, with whom, on the brief, was John J. Houlihan, Jr., Hartford, for the appellant (plaintiff).

James O'Connor Shea, Branford, with whom was Roger L. Brewer, Orange, for the appellee (defendant).

Before PETERS, C.J., and SHEA, DANNEHY, CALLAHAN and MARY R. HENNESSEY, JJ.

PETERS, Chief Justice.

The sole issue on this appeal is whether, under the circumstances of this case, an injured person may pursue a cause of action under Connecticut law to recover for allegedly tortious conduct that occurred in a jurisdiction where such a cause of action would not be permitted. The plaintiff, Roseann O'Connor, brought an action against the defendant, Brian O'Connor, seeking damages for injuries that she suffered as a result of an automobile accident in Quebec. 1 The trial court, Reilly, J. granted the defendant's motion to strike the complaint, finding that the law of Quebec, the place of injury, governed the controversy and that Quebec law precluded the plaintiff's action. Thereafter, the court, S. Freedman, J., rendered a judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which, in a per curiam opinion, upheld the trial court's judgment. We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The relevant facts are undisputed. The plaintiff was injured as a result of a one car automobile accident that occurred on September 3, 1981, in the province of Quebec, Canada. At the time of the accident, the defendant was operating the automobile and the plaintiff was his sole passenger. The parties, both of whom were Connecticut domiciliaries, were on a one day pleasure trip that began, and was intended to end, in Vermont. The plaintiff underwent hospital treatment for her injuries in Quebec and has suffered continuing physical disabilities while residing in Connecticut.

The plaintiff brought an action against the defendant on August 17, 1983, alleging that she had suffered serious and permanent injuries as a result of the defendant's negligent operation of the automobile. The plaintiff's complaint stated a cause of action permitted by General Statutes § 38-323, 2 part of Connecticut's No-[201 Conn. 635] Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, General Statutes §§ 38-319 through 38-350. Section 38-323 permits the victim of serious physical or economic injury caused by an automobile accident to sue the tortfeasor for damages. The defendant, however, moved to strike the complaint, on the ground that the applicable law in the case was the law of Quebec. Quebec law would not permit the plaintiff's tort action because Quebec Revised Statutes, chapter A-25, title II, §§ 3 and 4, provides instead for government funded compensation for victims of bodily injury caused by automobile accidents. 3

After a hearing, the trial court, Reilly, J., granted the motion to strike in an oral decision. The court expressly based its decision on this court's opinion in Gibson v. Fullin, 172 Conn. 407, 374 A.2d 1061 (1977), our most recent decision affirming the doctrine that the nature and extent of tort liability is governed by the place of injury, hereinafter referred to as "lex loci delicti" or "lex loci." When judgment was subsequently rendered in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which, like the trial court, considered itself bound by this court's past adherence to the lex loci doctrine. Accordingly, the Appellate Court, in a per curiam opinion, affirmed the judgment of the trial court. O'Connor v. O'Connor, 4 Conn.App. 19, 20, 492 A.2d 207, cert. granted, 196 Conn. 812, 495 A.2d 280 (1985).

On appeal to this court, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in granting the defendant's motion to strike. Recognizing that the trial court and the Appellate Court accurately applied the rules governing conflict of laws that our Connecticut cases have previously articulated, the plaintiff urges this court to reexamine the propriety of our continued adherence to the doctrine of lex loci delicti in cases of personal injury. In the particular circumstances of this case, the plaintiff maintains, we should no longer adhere rigidly to the doctrine of lex loci but should instead seek to discern and to apply the law of the jurisdiction that has the most significant relationship to the controversy, in accordance with the principles of the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws. Under the Restatement, according to the plaintiff, the jurisdiction that has the most significant relationship to this tort action is not Quebec but Connecticut. Quebec, although it was the place of injury, has no significant interest in applying its statutory compensation scheme to the controversy because the location of the automobile accident in Quebec was purely fortuitous. Connecticut, by contrast, has a substantial interest in applying its law to the case because: (1) both parties are domiciled and employed in Connecticut; (2) both parties are subject to the requirements and entitled to the benefits of Connecticut's no-fault insurance law, and that law embodies a policy of providing access to the courts for persons with serious bodily injuries; and (3) aside from her initial treatment after the accident, the plaintiff has received all of her postaccident medical care in Connecticut. We agree with the plaintiff.

I

This court has traditionally adhered to the doctrine that the substantive rights and obligations arising out of a tort controversy are determined by the law of the place of injury, or lex loci delicti. Gibson v. Fullin, supra, 172 Conn. at 411, 374 A.2d 1061; Menczer v. Menczer, 160 Conn. 563, 564-65, 280 A.2d 875 (1971); Landers v. Landers, 153 Conn. 303, 304, 216 A.2d 183 (1966); Orr v. Ahern, 107 Conn. 174, 176, 139 A. 691 (1928). Recently, however, we have recognized that there are circumstances in which strict application of the lex loci delicti rule frustrates the legitimate expectations of the parties and undermines an important policy of this state. In such circumstances, we have refused to apply the doctrine. Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 437 A.2d 828 (1980).

Simaitis was a plaintiff's appeal of an adverse summary judgment in a negligence action arising out of an automobile accident that occurred in Tennessee. The parties were Connecticut domiciliaries employed by a Connecticut corporation. The accident occurred while they were traveling in the course of their employment. The dispositive issue on appeal was whether the governing law was the workers' compensation act of Tennessee, which barred the plaintiff's action for damages, or the Connecticut act, which permitted such an action. We held that application of the lex loci rule in these circumstances afforded an "unsatisfactory resolution" to the choice of law problem; id., 29, 437 A.2d 828; noting that to employ the rule "would bestow upon temporary visitors injured in Connecticut all the relief which the Connecticut compensation act affords, but deny that same relief to Connecticut residents injured while on temporary business outside the state, even when all other incidents of employment ... are in Connecticut." Id., 29-30, 437 A.2d 828. Although we expressly declined to reconsider the rule of lex loci for tort law in general, we decided that it was appropriate to pursue an alternate approach for choice of law issues in workers' compensation cases. The alternate approach that we adopted looked to an examination of the respective interests of the relevant jurisdictions in applying their law to the controversy, and turned for guidance to the principles of § 181 of the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws. Simaitis v. Flood, supra, 32-33, 437 A.2d 828. Applying the principles of the Restatement, we held that the law of Connecticut, and not that of Tennessee, should govern the plaintiff's right to recover. Id., 34, 437 A.2d 828.

Our decision in Simaitis has rightly been interpreted as a signal that we are not wholeheartedly committed to application of lex loci as the sole approach to choice of law in all torts cases. See R. Silver & S. Twardy, "The Connecticut Torts Conflict of Laws Rule: A Proposal for Change," 57 Conn.B.J. 236, 237-38 (1983). Similarly, two federal district court cases have interpreted dicta in Gibson v. Fullin, supra, as contemplating circumstances in which Connecticut courts might deviate from the lex loci doctrine provided a "compelling reason" exists to do so. Halstead v. United States, 535 F.Supp. 782, 788 (D.Conn.1982), aff'd sub nom. Saloomey v. Jeppesen & Co., 707 F.2d 671 (2d Cir.1983); DeForneaux v. Sturm, Ruger & Co., 503 F.Supp. 2, 4 (D.Conn.), aff'd, 639 F.2d 768 (2d Cir.1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 908, 101 S.Ct. 1975, 68 L.Ed.2d 295 (1981). 4

II

We have consistently held that "a court should not overrule its earlier decisions unless the most cogent reasons and inescapable logic requires it." Herald Publishing Co. v. Bill, 142 Conn. 53, 62, 111 A.2d 4 (1955); see also State v. Castonguay, 194 Conn. 416, 435, 481 A.2d 56 (1984); Society for Savings v. Chestnut Estates, Inc., 176 Conn. 563, 570, 409 A.2d 1020 (1979). We have also recognized, however, that "[p]rinciples of law which serve one generation well may, by reason of changing conditions, disserve a later one," and that "[e]xperience can and often does demonstrate that a rule, once believed sound, needs modification to serve justice better." Herald Publishing Co. v. Bill, supra. Accordingly, we now undertake to analyze the policies and principles underlying the doctrine of lex loci delicti, as a preliminary step to determining whether "cogent reasons and inescapable logic" demand that we abandon the doctrine under the circumstances of the present case.

The doctrine of lex loci delicti, as first adopted by American courts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,...

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