The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihm, District Judge.
Presently before the Court is the Defendants' "Motion for
Ruling that the Law of the State of North Carolina is the
Applicable Law in this Case." The automobile accident which
gave rise to this case occurred in North Carolina. The
Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth
Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida from which it was
removed to the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida. Pursuant to a Motion for Transfer on the
basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the Florida
District Court transferred this case to the United States
District Court for the Central District of Illinois. The
question now before this Court is what state law applies in
this diversity action. The Court finds, for the reasons stated
below, that the law of North Carolina applies.
In August of 1984, the Plaintiff was involved in a single
vehicle automobile accident which occurred in the State of
North Carolina, on North Carolina State Route 172 (Complaint
¶ 7). The automobile, a 1983 Ford Escort with a sun roof, had
been purchased in January of 1984 from the Federal Credit Union
at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina (Complaint ¶ 6). The
automobile was purchased and owned by the Plaintiff's sister
and brother-in-law, Patricia and Samuel Bass, who were both
stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina at the time of the
purchase and at the time of the accident. (Complaint ¶ 7).
The Plaintiff, Juanita (Tina) Barron, was a citizen of
Illinois prior to her move to North Carolina, where she lived
with her sister. She babysat with their infant daughter,
Lindsey, so that the couple could readily fulfill their
military duties at Camp LeJeune. (Plaintiff's Dep. p. 8).
In the afternoon of August 10, 1984, Patricia Bass and the
Plaintiff were enroute to Camp LeJeune to pick up Samuel Bass.
(Patricia Bass Dep. p. 10). Patricia Bass was driving the 1983
Ford Escort and Tina Barron was seated in the right front
passenger seat. (Id. at 18). Lindsey Bass was in a car seat
directly behind the driver's seat. (Id.)
The highway was wet from heavy rain earlier in the day, and
it was drizzling at the time of the accident. (Id. at 11).
While traveling 50 to 55 miles per hour (Id. at 13), Patricia
Bass hit a puddle in the road and lost control of the
automobile. The car ultimately ran off the road and overturned.
(Id. pp. 16-19).
Neither Patricia Bass nor Lindsey Bass were thrown from the
car or suffered injuries of any severity. (Id. at 20-21). The
Plaintiff woke up lying on her back in a ditch. (Plaintiff's
Dep. at 18). She suffered spinal injuries and as a result is
now a paraplegic. (Id. at 31). Since the time of the accident,
the Plaintiff has returned to live with her parents in
Sheffield, Illinois, about 50 miles from Peoria. (Id. at 32).
The question of applicable law is of particular concern in
the instant case in light of the stark contrast between
Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina substantive tort law. In
the instant case, the Plaintiff relies upon the
Crashworthiness Doctrine, which holds a manufacturer liable
for additional injuries resulting from the negligent design of
a product, even if the defect that caused the injuries to be
enhanced is not the initial cause of the accident. Larsen v.
General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968).
In the Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges no defect that
caused the accident itself, but seeks to recover from the
Defendants on a theory that the allegedly defective design of
the sun roof caused the Plaintiff to be ejected from the
automobile, thus aggravating her injuries. Plaintiff alleges
that the negligent design of the retention system of the Ford
Escort caused her to be injured more seriously than she would
have been if the sun roof were properly designed.
Illinois and Florida strict liability law both recognize the
Crashworthiness Doctrine. However, North Carolina law does
not. Wilson v. Ford Motor Corp., 656 F.2d 960 (4th Cir. 1981).
The jurisdiction of this Court is based upon diversity of
citizenship, and therefore, the Erie Doctrine applies. The
Erie Doctrine requires that conflict of law questions be
resolved by applying the choice of law rules of the forum
state. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co.,
313 U.S. 487, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941).
Although both parties spend time discussing the conflict of
laws test applied by Illinois and North Carolina, the law is
very well established that in a transfer case the applicable
choice of law standard is that of the transferor state. The
Supreme Court resolved this issue in the case of VanDusen v.
Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964). In
its decision, the Supreme Court recognized an exception to the
Erie and Klaxon Doctrines in the cases ...