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Even if the two potentially concerned states have different laws, there is still no problem in choosing the applicable rule of law where only one of the states has an interest in having its law applied. When one of two states related to a case has a legitimate interest in the application of its law and policy and the other has none, there is no real problem; clearly the law of the interested state should be applied.
Plaintiff heirs of Antonio Hurtado commenced an action for damages for wrongful death, arising out of an automobile accident, against defendant Manuel Hurtado, a resident of California. Moreover, the vehicles involved in the accident were registered in California. At all material times, however, the plaintiffs were residents and domiciliaries of the State of Zacatecas, Mexico. Upon motion of the defendant, the trial court ruled on the issue of whether the measure of damages was to be applied according to the law of California or the law of Mexico. After submission of the issue on briefs, the trial court ruled in substance that it would apply a measure of damages in accordance with California law and not Mexican law. Defendant then sought a writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal to compel the trial court to vacate its ruling and to issue a ruling that Mexico’s limitation of damages for wrongful death be applied. The Court of Appeal granted an alternative writ and thereafter issued a peremptory writ of mandate so directing the trial court. The State Supreme Court granted a hearing upon the petition of plaintiffs.
Did the trial court err in applying a measure of damages in accordance with California law instead of Mexican law?
In discharging the lower appellate court's writ of mandate, the Court held that the superior court was correct in applying California law to the action. The Court stated that the proper test, the governmental interest approach, required an analysis of the respective interests of the states involved, the objective of which was to determine the law that most appropriately applied to the issue involved. The Court found that in wrongful death actions, there were completely independent state interests that created a cause of action to provide some recovery and deter conduct and limited the amount of that recovery to avoid the imposition of excessive financial burdens on defendants. However, a state would not have an overriding interest in denying its own residents unlimited recovery against nonresidents in another state. In this case, the Court found that Mexico had no interest in applying its limitation of damages in wrongful death actions to nonresident defendants or in denying full recovery to its resident plaintiffs.