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Illinois law applies to accident in that state involving Hoosiers

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A trial court properly held that Illinois substantive law is applicable to a collision that occurred in Illinois between two Indiana residents, the Court of Appeals concluded Tuesday.

Stacy Stephens was driving a car in Illinois within the course of her employment when a semi-truck driven by James K. Melton in the course of his employment with Perdue Foods struck her car at an intersection as Stephens attempted a left turn. Melton argued he was attempting to pass her at the time of impact and she failed to signal her turn as she approached the intersection.

Stephens and her husband, Chad, filed a lawsuit against Melton, Perdue Foods and FFP Business, alleging that the companies negligently failed to train Melton how to properly operate the commercial vehicle and that Melton drove the semi-truck when he was not properly medically certified as physically qualified to do so.

The parties argued which state’s law is applicable in this case – the Stephenses claimed Illinois law is applicable; the defendants believed Indiana law applied because the allegedly negligent actions by the businesses occurred in Indiana. The trial court ruled Illinois substantive law is applicable to the collision.

The appeals court based its decision on the multi-step inquiry outlined in Hubbard Manufacturing Co. Inc. v. Greeson, 515 N.E.2d 1071 (Ind. 1987), to determine which state’s law will apply.  

“Because the drivers’ conduct in operating their motor vehicles prior to the collision will be the focus of attention to determine liability, and that conduct was governed by the rules of the road of the state in which the accident occurred, we conclude that the presumption of the lex loci delicti remains significant and is not overcome,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

“Moreover, recognizing that the issues presented by Stephens are substantial and not merely remedial or procedural, the conduct must be necessarily governed by Illinois’ Rules of the Road as ‘people do not take the laws of their home state with them when they travel but are subject to the laws of the state in which they act.’ Based on the circumstances before us, we conclude that the place of tort is significant to the action.”

The judges determined that even if they deemed Illinois, as the place of the tort, to be an insignificant contact, an analysis of the additional Hubbard factors would still lead to the decision that Illinois law is applicable.

The case is James K. Melton, Perdue Foods, LLC f/k/a Perdue Farms Incorporated and FPP Business Services, Inc., et al. v. Chad Stephens, Guardian of the Person and Estate of Stacy S. Stephens and Chad Stephens, 14A01-1308-CT-356.

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