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Law School Case Brief

Babcock v. Jackson - 12 N.Y.2d 473, 240 N.Y.S.2d 743, 191 N.E.2d 279 (1963)


The "center of gravity" or "grouping of contacts" doctrine adopted by the court in conflicts cases involving contracts impresses the court as affording the appropriate approach for accommodating the competing interests in tort cases with multi-state contacts. Justice, fairness, and the best practical result may best be achieved by giving controlling effect to the law of the jurisdiction which, because of its relationship or contact with the occurrence or the parties, has the greatest concern with the specific issue raised in the litigation. The merit of such a rule is that it gives to the place having the most interest in the problem paramount control over the legal issues arising out of a particular factual context and thereby allows the forum to apply the policy of the jurisdiction most intimately concerned with the outcome of the particular litigation.


In 1960, plaintiff Georgia Babcock and her friends, Mr. and Mrs. William Jackson, all residents of Rochester, New York, left that city in Jackson's automobile, Babcock as guest, for a week-end trip to Canada. Some hours later, as Jackson was driving in the Province of Ontario, he apparently lost control of the car; it went off the highway into an adjacent stone wall, and Babcock was seriously injured. Upon her return to New York, Babcock brought the present action against William Jackson, alleging negligence on his part in operating his automobile.

At the time of the accident, there was in force in Ontario a statute providing that "the owner or driver of a motor vehicle, other than a vehicle operated in the business of carrying passengers for compensation, is not liable for any loss or damage resulting from bodily injury to, or the death of any person being carried in ... the motor vehicle." Even though no such bar is recognized under this State's substantive law of torts, defendant Jackson moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the law of the place where the accident occurred governs and that Ontario's guest statute barred recovery. The court at Special Term, agreeing with defendant, granted the motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of dismissal without opinion.


Was plaintiff Babcock, because she was a guest in defendant Jackson’s automobile, barred from recovering damages for a wrong committed in Ontario, Canada?




The reviewing court reversed its prior choice of law rule for torts, which was based on the law of the place of the tort, and held that the applicable choice of law rule should also reflect a consideration of other factors relevant to the purposes served by the enforcement or denial of the remedy. Comparison of the relative "contacts" and "interests" of New York and Ontario in the action made it clear that the concern of New York was unquestionably greater and more direct, and the interest of Ontario was at best minimal.

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