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Comity does not require the application of the substantive law of a foreign state when that law contravenes the public policy of West Virginia.
In September of 1977 Eliza Vickers and Aloha Jane Paul, both West Virginia residents, took a weekend trip to Indiana. The two women were involved in a one-car collision on Interstate 65 in Indiana when Mrs. Vickers lost control of the car. That collision took both women's lives. The administrator of Mrs. Paul's estate brought a wrongful death action against Ms. Vickers' estate and the National Life Accident Company in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Upon completion of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. Defendants' motion contended that: (1) the Indiana guest statute, which grants to a gratuitous host immunity from liability for the injury or death of a passenger unless that host was guilty of willful and wanton misconduct at the time of the accident, was applicable; and (2) that the record was devoid of any evidence of willful or wanton misconduct on the part of Ms. Vickers. By order dated 29 October 1984, the Circuit Court of Kanawha County entered summary judgment for the defendants. The order of the circuit court held that our conflicts doctrine of lex loci delicti required that the law of the place of the injury, namely, Indiana, apply to the case, and that the record contained no evidence of willful or wanton misconduct on the part of Ms. Vickers. It is from this order that the plaintiffs appealed.
Should automobile guest passenger statutes of foreign jurisdictions be enforced in West Virginia?
The court held that West Virginia adhered to its traditional conflicts doctrine of lex loci delecti but reversed the judgment of the court below. The doctrine provided consistency, predictability, and ease of doctrine and was not to be lightly discarded. However, the court held that comity did not require the application of the substantive law of a foreign state when that law contravened the public policy of West Virginia. West Virginia never had an automobile guest passenger statute such as Ind. Code § 9-3-3-1, and it was the state's strong public policy that persons injured by the negligence of another should be able to recover in tort. Therefore, the court declared that automobile guest passenger statutes violated the policy of the state and that it would no longer enforce those statutes of foreign jurisdictions in West Virginia courts.