Edwards v. Erie Coach Lines Company

952 N.E.2d 1033 (N.Y. 2011)


A charter bus carrying members of an Ontario women's hockey team plowed into the rear end of a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of the highway. The accident occurred in New York. Three bus passengers and the tractor-trailer's driver died. Several bus passengers were seriously hurt. The bus driver, his employer, and the company that leased the bus are Ontario domiciliaries, as are all the injured and deceased passengers. The tractor-trailer driver was a Pennsylvania domiciliary, as are his employer and the companies that hired the trailer. The injured passengers and the representatives of those who died (Ps) filed multiple wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits in New York. Ontario caps noneconomic damages where negligence causes catastrophic personal injury, while New York does not cap such damages in a no-fault case involving serious injury. Ds moved for orders from Supreme Court determining that, under New York's choice-of-law principles, Ontario law applied to 'all loss allocation issues' in these cases. The Court granted both motions. The court applied Neumeier. The court held that applying Ontario loss allocation would not impair the smooth working of the multi-state system, and would advance the relevant substantive law purposes of the jurisdiction having the most significant connections to the allocation of loss. It held that Ontario 'clearly had the predominant interest in applying its loss allocation laws to its citizens, whereas New York had no such interest.' The court saw no reason to consider Pennsylvania law since none of the parties requested that application. Ps appealed. The Appellate Division agreed with the Court's bottom-line conclusion that the Ontario cap applied to damages recovered from the bus and trailer defendants. It conducted separate choice-of-law analyses. With respect to the bus defendants, the court looked to the first Neumeier rule, which directs that the law of the parties' common domicile--here, Ontario--governs. Applying the law of a shared domicile reduced the risk of forum shopping; rebutted the charge of local bias; and served ' 'the concepts of mutuality and reciprocity,' ' which are ' 'supported by the consistent application of the common-domicile law.' ' As between Ps and the trailer defendants, the Appellate Division applied the third Neumeier rule, which prefers the law of the place of the tort. It held that Ontario law should govern because New York has no significant interest in applying its law to this dispute. It concluded that Ps failed to meet the ' 'heavy burden' of establishing that the application of Ontario law violated the public policy of New York.' Ps appealed.