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Joseph P. Murphy and Patricia Murphy v. Mancari's Chrysler Plymouth

March 31, 2011

JOSEPH P. MURPHY AND PATRICIA MURPHY,
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MANCARI'S CHRYSLER PLYMOUTH, INC., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 09 L 15806 Honorable Jeffrey Lawrence, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Karnezis

JUSTICE KARNEZIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Connors and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Plaintiffs, Illinois residents Joseph and Patricia Murphy, filed a personal injury action against defendant Mancari's Chrysler Plymouth, Inc. (Mancari's), an Illinois corporation, for an accident that occurred in Michigan.*fn1 The circuit court ordered that Michigan law apply to issues of liability and damages. On plaintiffs' motion, the court granted leave to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994) and certified the following question for our review: "Whether Michigan law or Illinois law on the issues of liability and damages govern this case." We allowed plaintiffs' petition for interlocutory appeal. In answer to the court's question, we find that Illinois law governs the liability and damages issues in this case. We remand to the circuit court for further proceedings in light of this determination.

Background

Plaintiffs are Illinois residents. They bought a Chrysler Sebring convertible automobile in Illinois from Mancari's, an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. In 2005, Joseph sustained permanent spinal cord injuries when the Sebring rolled over while he was driving it. The drive originated in Illinois but the accident occurred in Michigan, on the way to plaintiffs' weekend home in Michigan. The accident occurred when Joseph fell asleep at the wheel after having taken a sleeping pill at a rest stop in Michigan approximately an hour before he was to reach his Michigan home.

In 2006, plaintiffs filed a personal injury action in the circuit court of Cook County against Mancari's and DaimlerChrysler Corporation (Chrysler) (collectively defendants), case No. 06 L 9445.*fn2 Chrysler, the manufacturer of the vehicle, is a Michigan corporation with its principal place of business in Michigan. Chrysler designed, manufactured and tested the car in Michigan. Plaintiffs asserted strict liability claims against both Chrysler and Mancari's and a negligence claim against Mancari's. In May 2007, the court dismissed the strict liability claim against Mancari's pursuant to section 2-621 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-621 (West 2006)) because Mancari's was not the manufacturer of the Sebring and had certified that Chrysler was of the manufacturer. The court granted plaintiffs leave to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994). In Murphy v. Mancari's Chrysler Plymouth, Inc., 381 Ill. App. 3d 768 (2008), we answered the certified question posed by the court and remanded the cause. The case went forward solely on the strict liability claim against Chrysler and the negligence claim against Mancari's.

In 2008, defendants moved for a determination of applicable law, arguing the law of the state of Michigan applied to issues of liability and damages. The court agreed and ordered that Michigan law apply to issues of liability and damages. It denied plaintiffs' motion to reconsider but granted plaintiffs' request for leave to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994) and certified the following question for our review: "Whether Michigan law or Illinois law on the issues of liability and damages govern this case." We allowed plaintiffs' petition for interlocutory appeal in appeal No. 1-08-1999. The case was fully briefed and set for oral argument.

In April 2009, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court. We ordered appeal No. 1-08-1999 stayed pending the outcome of the federal bankruptcy proceeding.

In December 2009, the circuit court granted plaintiffs' motion to sever their claims against Mancari's from their claims against Chrysler. It assigned plaintiffs' suit against Mancari's a new case number, No. 09 L 15806, and continued with the case. Plaintiffs' suit against Chrysler remained pending under the original case number.

Plaintiffs requested that the court determine whether Michigan or Illinois law applied to its claims against Mancari's, given that the claims against Chrysler had been severed. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged that Mancari's, acting through its agents before the occurrence, was negligent in "failing to warn [plaintiffs] that their vehicle was not equipped with a sufficient roll bar or other devices to protect a driver from traumatic injuries in a reasonably foreseeable rollover." In July 2010, the court again determined that Michigan law applied to the liability and damages issues. It allowed plaintiffs leave to seek an interlocutory appeal and certified the same question for this court's review: "Whether Michigan law or Illinois law on the issues of liability and damages govern this case."*fn3

We granted plaintiffs leave to voluntarily dismiss appeal No. 1-08-1999 and allowed their interlocutory appeal in the case against Mancari's only, appeal No. 1-10-2178.

Analysis

Choice-of-Law Determination

In Townsend v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 227 Ill. 2d 147 (2007), our supreme court decided the same choice-of-law question at issue here: whether Illinois or Michigan law would govern the liability and damages issues presented in a products liability and negligence action. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 149-50 (Michigan residents injured in Michigan by allegedly defective riding lawn tractor bought in Michigan and manufactured in South Carolina by a New York corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois). Townsend sets forth the analysis we must undertake in deciding the certified question, and we, therefore, follow Townsend, except to the extent necessitated by the factual differences between the cases.

A choice-of-law determination is only required if a difference in law will affect the outcome of a case. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 155. As Townsend explains, and the parties agree, conflicts exist between Illinois law and Michigan law regarding liability and damages, the same two areas of law at issue here, which could affect the outcome of a case. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 156.

First, with regard to liability, there exists a conflict regarding the concept of fault because, while Illinois has a rule of strict liability in tort for product design defects, Michigan does not, imposing instead a pure negligence standard for defective design actions. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 156. As a result, a defendant's inability to know or prevent a risk is not a defense in Illinois because he is strictly liable while in Michigan the same finding would preclude a negligence finding because the standard of care is established by other manufacturers in the industry. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 156. Second, there exists a conflict regarding compensatory damages because, while Illinois does not have a statutory cap on compensatory damages for non-economic injuries, Michigan imposes a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages in product liability actions. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 156. Plaintiffs point to assorted other differences between Illinois law and Michigan law on damages and liability. Suffice it to say, the choice-of-law will have an impact on the outcome of the liability and damages issues in this case and a choice-of-law determination is, therefore, required.

Significant-Relationship Test

Because Illinois is the forum state, Illinois choice-of-law rules control the choice-of-law determination. Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 155. Illinois follows the methodology set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (Second Restatement). Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §6 (1971); Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 155. Pursuant to section 146 of the Second Restatement, the presumption is that the law to be applied in a case involving, as here, personal injury is the law of the state where the accident or injury occurred "unless, with respect to the particular issue[s], some other state has a more significant relationship under the principles stated in §6 to the occurrence and the parties, in which event the local law of the other state will be applied." Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §146 (1971); Townsend, 227 Ill. 2d at 164-65.

It is uncontested that the accident and injury occurred in Michigan. Therefore, we must presume, ab initio, that the law of Michigan applies to the liability and damages issues. Plaintiffs, however, assert that Illinois has a more significant relationship with ...


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