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Coats v. Hertz Corp.

May 20, 1998

VICKI ANN COATS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT D. COATS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE HERTZ CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND RONALD C. WILLS AND FORD MOTOR COMPANY, DEFENDANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Union County. No. 95-L-13 Honorable Bruce D. Stewart, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

On October 19, 1993, Roberts Coats burned to death in the back seat of a car that had been driven into a ditch by the defendant, Ronald Wills. Plaintiff filed suit against Wills, and later, plaintiff filed counts XIII, XIV, and XV of an amended complaint against Hertz Corporation (Hertz), which had leased the car to Wills in New York. Those counts are based on a New York statute that provides:

"Every owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for death or injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle *** by any person using or operating the same with the permission *** of such owner." New York Vehicle & Traffic Law §388 (McKinney 1993).

Hertz filed a motion to dismiss counts XIII, XIV, and XV, and the trial court denied it. The trial court did, however, allow Hertz's motion for a Supreme Court Rule 308 certification (155 Ill. 2d R. 308) of the following question:

"Whether, under Illinois conflict[-]of[-]law doctrine, New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 388, which holds an owner of a vehicle vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver regardless of his relationship with the owner, should be applied to a vehicle leased in New York and involved in an accident in Illinois, where Illinois law holds that an owner is not liable for the acts of a driver unless agency or negligent entrustment is established."

This court granted Hertz's application for leave to appeal. We review only the question certified (Lewis v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 269 Ill. App. 3d 483, 646 N.E.2d 1378 (1995)), and our standard of review is de novo (S.B. Lexington, Inc. v. Near North Insurance Agency, Inc., 244 Ill. App. 3d 1023, 614 N.E.2d 234 (1993)).

In 1970 the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the lex loci delicti doctrine and adopted the most-significant-relationship test for deciding which state's law to apply. Ingersoll v. Klein, 46 Ill. 2d 42, 262 N.E.2d 593 (1970). The application of the most-significant-relationship test requires a court to consider: (1) the location of the injury, (2) where the injury-causing conduct occurred, (3) the domicile of the parties, and (4) where the relationship of the parties is centered.

More recently, the supreme court has indicated that the contacts can also be considered in light of the relevant general principles governing all choice-of-law decisions. Nelson v. Hix, 122 Ill. 2d 343, 522 N.E.2d 1214 (1988). Section 6 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws furnishes seven general principles:

"(a) the needs of the interstate and international systems,

(b) the relevant policies of the forum,

(c) the relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue,

(d) the protection of justified expectations,

(e) the basic policies underlying the particular ...


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