Paul v. West American Ins. Co.

Decision Date11 July 1984
Docket NumberNo. C-830683,C-830683
Parties, 19 O.B.R. 166 PAUL, Admr., et al., Appellees, v. WEST AMERICAN INS. CO., Appellant.
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

Syllabus by the Court

1. In deciding choice of law questions, Ohio courts apply a process of interest analysis, whereby the law of the forum state and the law of any other state having an interest in the litigation are examined and weighed to determine which state has the most substantial governmental interest in the outcome of the case.

2. Ohio law is applicable in determining the amount of damages recoverable in an action commenced in Ohio by Ohio representatives of an Ohio decedent killed in a foreign state, to recover under a policy of insurance issued in Ohio which limits recovery from the underinsured motorist to those damages which the insureds are "legally entitled to recover," because the compelling state interest of Ohio in fully compensating its citizens in wrongful death cases outweighs the interests of the foreign state in determining the standard of care and against subjecting its citizens to unlimited recoveries.

Bernard C. Fox, Cincinnati, for appellees.

Joseph K. Wehby, Cincinnati, for appellant.


This cause came on to be heard upon an appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Hamilton County.

This timely appeal follows the trial court's granting of plaintiffs-appellees' motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death action.

Appellees' decedent, Joseph M. Paul, was killed in an automobile accident which occurred November 21, 1981 near Bonner Springs, Kansas. The decedent, a student at St. Louis University, was on his way to Colorado with three other students at the time of the accident. At approximately 4:30 a.m., David Ellerbrake, the driver of the automobile in which decedent was riding, pulled the automobile off the traveled portion of westbound Interstate 70 near Bonner Springs, Kansas. Douglas Wagner was driving his automobile in a westerly direction on Interstate 70, when he suddenly swerved onto the shoulder of the interstate at the same point where the Ellerbrake vehicle was stopped. The Wagner automobile struck the Ellerbrake vehicle in the rear, killing all four occupants.

Wagner was insured under a policy issued by Allstate Insurance Company. This policy was limited to $15,000 bodily injury coverage for each person and $30,000 for each occurrence. Plaintiffs- appellees' claims against Wagner and Allstate Insurance Company were settled for $7,500, one-fourth of the total coverage per occurrence provided by the Allstate policy. The remaining money available under the Allstate policy was paid to the representatives of the three other accident victims. Wagner was tried in Kansas on criminal charges stemming from the accident. He was subsequently acquitted of all charges.

Defendant-appellant West American Insurance Company (hereinafter "West American") issued to appellees Glenn A. Paul and Mary E.R. Paul an insurance policy, which was in effect on November 21, 1981, containing an "underinsured motorist" clause. The "underinsured motorist" coverage provided limits of $100,000 for each person and $300,000 for each occurrence. It further provided that, in the case of an underinsured motorist, appellant would "pay damages which a covered person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury: (1) sustained by a covered person and (2) caused by an accident." The policy also provided for arbitration in the event of a dispute about eligibility for or the amount of damages. It is undisputed that Joseph M. Paul and appellees were "covered persons" within the meaning of the policy at the time of the death of Joseph M. Paul. It is also undisputed that appellant is licensed to do business in Ohio, appellees are all residents of Ohio, the policy of insurance was issued in Ohio and the estate of Joseph M. Paul is being administered in Hamilton County, Ohio.

A dispute arose between the parties as to whether the laws of the state of Kansas or the laws of the state of Ohio should govern the arbitration process. Kansas law limits recovery in wrongful death actions to $25,000 while Ohio law allows unlimited recovery in such cases. Appellees filed suit in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, asking the court to declare that Ohio law is applicable to the arbitration proceedings. After appellant filed an answer, appellees filed a motion for summary judgment attached to which was an affidavit of appellee Glenn A. Paul. Appellant filed a memorandum in opposition to appellees' motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the appellees' motion, holding that the arbitration proceedings should be governed by Ohio law.

Appellant alleges as its sole assignment of error that:

"The trial court erred to the prejudice of the defendant-appellant in granting the plaintiffs-appellees' motion for summary judgment."

Appellant contends that the trial court erred in holding that Ohio law, and not Kansas law, is applicable to the arbitration proceedings.

Appellant argues that, by the terms of the policy of insurance issued by appellant to appellees, appellees are limited to those damages which they are "legally entitled to recover" from the underinsured motorist, Wagner. Appellant contends that because Wagner is a resident of Kansas, appellees would have been required to bring suit against Wagner in Kansas and that under Kansas law appellees could never have recovered more than $25,000 from Wagner in a wrongful death action. Therefore, appellant argues, because appellees could never have been "legally entitled" to more than $25,000 from Wagner, appellant, under the insurance policy, is not liable for more than that amount. We disagree.

The record is devoid of evidence, other than appellant's unsupported allegation, as to the residency of Wagner. Because we cannot determine from the record the residency of Wagner, we...

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4 cases
  • Barge v. Jaber
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • August 27, 1993
    ...16 Ohio Jur.2d Conflicts of Laws § 18 (1979 & Supp.1993), this principle should not be applied rigidly. In Paul v. West American Ins. Co., 19 Ohio App.3d 82, 482 N.E.2d 1309 (1984), for example, the Ohio court of appeals for Hamilton County applied the conflicts of laws doctrine of "interes......
  • Bowman v. Koch Transfer Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • December 7, 1988
    ...made reference to Ohio's policy of fully compensating its citizens in wrongful death cases. See, e.g., Paul v. West American Insurance Co., 19 Ohio App.3d 82, 482 N.E.2d 1309 (1984). None of the cases cited by plaintiff, however, involve a situation such as the one we have here. In this ins......
  • William Hammann, Inc. and William Hammann v. Continental Casualty Co., 87-LW-3042
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • October 7, 1987
    ... ... under the authority of Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v ... Perrin (1986), 21 Ohio St.3d 43, 487 N.E.2d 568; ... v. Modell (1984), 15 ... Ohio St.3d 284, 473 N.E.2d 807; and Paul v. West American ... Ins. Co. (1984), 19 Ohio App.3d 82, 482 N.E.2d ... ...
  • Alexander and Associates, Inc. v. Robert G. Wilde
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • August 21, 1987
    ... ... most substantial governmental interest. Paul v. West ... American Ins. Co. (1984), 19 Ohio App.3d 82. We note ... ...

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