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Phillips v. GMC - 2000 MT 55, 298 Mont. 438, 995 P.2d 1002 (2000)

Rule:

The Supreme Court of Montana adopts the "most significant relationship" approach to determine the applicable substantive law for issues of tort.

Facts:

In 1995, the decedent, Darrell Byrd, purchased a pick-up truck manufactured by defendant General Motors Corporation ("GMC"); the purchase took place in North Carolina, and Mr. Byrd provided the dealership with a North Carolina address. Sometime thereafter, apparently, Mr. Byrd and his family moved to Montana. In 1997, while driving from their Montana home to North Carolina, the Byrds' truck was involved in an collision with a tractor-trailer. Mr. Byrd, his wife, Angela Byrd, and their minor son, T.B., died as result of the collision and ensuing fire. Another minor son, S.B., was injured in the accident. It was undisputed that the Byrds were residents of Montana at the time of the accident. Plaintiff Alvin K. Phillips, as personal representative of the decedents' estates and as guardian of S.B., filed a products liability action against GMC in federal district court in Montana. Observing that the case raised significant policy questions involving Montana's choice of law rules, the district court certified three questions to the Supreme Court of Montana.

Issue:

(1) Whether, in a personal injury/product liability/wrongful death action, where there was a potential conflict of laws, Montana would follow the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, including the "most significant relationship" test, in the determination of which state's substantive law to apply? (2) Given the facts of the present case, which state's law applied to plaintiff's various tort and damages claims under Montana's choice of law rules? (3) Did Montana recognize a "public policy" exception that would require application of Montana law even where Montana's choice of law rules dictated application of the laws of another state, and would such an exception apply in the present case?

Answer:

(1) Yes; (2) Montana law; (3) No.

Conclusion:

In answering the certified questions, the state supreme court: (1) adopted the approach contained in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws in determining the choice of law rules for contract disputes. In addition the court expressly adopted the "most significant relationship" approach to determine the applicable substantive law for issues of tort; (2) applied the facts of the case to the several factors in the "most significant relationship" analysis and ruled that the laws of Montana appled to Phillips' action against GMC, and; (3) noted that, in order to determine which state had the more significant relationship, the public policies of all interested states must be considered. Considerations of public policy were accounted for under the analysis contained in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws. Thus, a "public policy" exception to the most significant relationship test would be redundant.

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