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Deemer v. Silk City Textile Machinery Co.

Decided: March 16, 1984.

PATRICIA JEAN DEEMER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF JERRY T. DEEMER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
SILK CITY TEXTILE MACHINERY CO., A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, AND ANTHONY INCANNO, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County.

Michels, King and Dreier. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.

Michels

This is a wrongful death action instituted by plaintiff Patricia Jean Deemer, individually and as administratrix ad prosequendum of the Estate of her deceased husband, Jerry T. Deemer (Deemer). The action was instituted against defendants Silk City Textile Machinery Co. (Silk City) and Anthony Incanno (Incanno), to recover damages based on theories of strict liability, implied warranty and negligence.

It appears from the record submitted on this appeal that on August 14, 1980 Deemer suffered a crush-type injury to his left ankle while performing maintenance work on a shear-cut batcher manufactured by Silk City. Ultimately he died, and this action was instituted claiming that his death was causally related to the accident. The machine involved was sold by Silk City to decedent's employer, Collins & Aikman, at some time prior to November 30, 1977. Initially, the machine was installed at a Collins & Aikman plant located in Cowpens, South Carolina. Approximately three weeks prior to the decedent's accident, the machine was moved to the Collins & Aikman plant in Farmville, North Carolina, at which the accident occurred. Plaintiff claims that this machine was moved with the assistance of Silk City and its agents, servants, and/or employees. Silk City, on the other hand, contends that the actual moving of the machine was effectuated without any such assistance, but that after the machine was relocated Incanno, a Silk City

representative, provided instructions to Collins & Aikman personnel.

At the time of the sale of the machine, and at the time of the accident, Silk City was a New Jersey corporation doing business throughout the United States. The machine was manufactured in New Jersey. At the time of the accident, and at the time of his demise, decedent was a resident of North Carolina. The accident occurred in North Carolina, and the decedent filed a workers' compensation petition there as well. His wife, the plaintiff, continues to be a resident of North Carolina. It also appears that on January 1, 1983, Silk City effectuated a bulk sale of its assets to Krantz America, Inc., a German corporation whose principal place of business in the United States is located in North Carolina. At the time of this bulk sale, Silk City underwent a dissolution and terminated its corporate existence.

After filing an answer, defendants moved before the trial court for an order declaring that the law of North Carolina was the applicable law governing this case. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that since the machine was manufactured in New Jersey, there was "a most substantial connection between this case and the law of the State of New Jersey" and therefore the law of New Jersey applied. We granted leave to defendants to appeal from this interlocutory ruling and now reverse.

Historically, New Jersey courts resolved choice of law questions in tort cases in accordance with the doctrine of lex loci delicti, "rigidly applying the [substantive] law of the place where the wrong occurred." Van Dyke v. Bolves, 107 N.J. Super. 338, 342-343 (App.Div.1969). See, e.g., Marshall v. Geo. M. Brewster & Son, Inc., 37 N.J. 176, 180 (1962); Harber v. Graham, 105 N.J.L. 213, 214-215 (E. & A.1928). Although this traditional rule advanced certainty, uniformity and predictability in choice of law determinations, Daily v. Somberg, 28 N.J. 372, 380 (1958), it came to be recognized that the "mechanical application" of the lex loci delicti doctrine often produced an

unjust result. Mellk v. Sarahson, 49 N.J. 226, 228-229 (1967). Therefore, in a series of cases beginning with Mellk v. Sarahson, supra, and Pfau v. Trent Aluminum Company, 55 N.J. 511 (1970), New Jersey courts abandoned the traditional rule in favor of the governmental interest approach to choice of law questions. This approach requires a two-step analysis in resolving conflicts questions: the court determines first the governmental policies evidenced by the laws of each related jurisdiction and second the factual contacts of the parties with each related jurisdiction. Beckwith v. Bethlehem Steel, 185 N.J. Super. 50, 59-60 (Law Div.1982); Wuerffel v. Westinghouse Corporation, 148 N.J. Super. 327, 333 (Law Div.1977). See Rose v. Port of New York Authority, 61 N.J. 129, 139-140 (1972); Pfau v. Trent Aluminum Co., supra; Restatement 2d, Conflicts of Law ยงยง 6, 145, 146 (1971).

Applying the governmental interest test here, we are convinced that the trial court erred in concluding that the substantive law of New Jersey governed this matter. New Jersey has no interest in protecting the compensation rights of a non-domiciliary resident. Indeed, our Supreme Court's decision in Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc., 63 N.J. 130 (1973) appears to evidence a policy of discouraging forum shopping where, as here, the contacts with the State are at best tenuous. In Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc., supra, the purchaser of a truck instituted a product liability action against the manufacturer and retailer of a truck tire for personal injuries to himself and damages to his vehicle, and his wife sought a per quod recovery for loss of consortium, allegedly caused by a defect in the tire which resulted in a blowout and crash. Both plaintiffs were, at the time of the accident and thereafter, residents of North Carolina. Defendant Uniroyal was a New Jersey corporation engaged in the manufacture, sale and ...


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