On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Passaic County.
King, Brody and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.A.D.
[263 NJSuper Page 288] On leave granted, plaintiffs Ira Moye and Annette Moye appeal from choice of law orders which determined that New Jersey law must govern respecting comparative negligence and owner-liability issues in their action which seeks recovery against the defendants for injuries suffered by Ira Moye (Moye) in a New York vehicular accident. The Moyes' suit asserts causative negligent conduct by some or all of the defendants in violation of portions of the New York Traffic Act. Upon weighing the respective governmental interests, we conclude on the facts of this case, that New York local law, the lex loci, should here govern, and so reverse.
Moye, a New Jersey resident, was employed by MetPath*fn1, a New York corporation, operating out of its Teterboro, New Jersey office. Every working evening, he drove a van into New York where, operating on a regular route, he collected specimens for laboratory analysis by MetPath from various New York locations. He would ordinarily depart from Teterboro at 4:00 p.m., returning about 1:00 a.m., at the end of his shift.
Defendant X-L Plastics, Inc. is a New Jersey corporation which ships plastics to customers in a tractor-trailer rig owned by Arnel Trucking. The rig is maintained by X-L and driven by its employee, Jose Jiminez, who is also a New Jersey resident. Although the motion Judge was under the impression that Arnel Trucking is a New Jersey corporation, Moye's attorney submitted to him, on motion for reconsideration, uncontested information from the Secretary of State showing that Arnel is not incorporated in this state.
On February 25, 1987, X-L dispatched Jiminez to deliver a trailer load of plastics to its New York customer, Jad Plastics, located in Whitestone, New York. X-L regularly makes such deliveries to Jad.
The trailer caught fire and burned on 20th Avenue in Queens. New York fire and police units responded. After the fire was extinguished, defendants off-loaded the shipment, but failed to move the burned-out trailer or to provide appropriate warning devices or signals. For purposes of the motions, the trailer may be deemed to have remained in a travel lane of the roadway in violation of Federal I.C.C. regulations and New York statutes*fn2 which require warning signals, such as reflectors,
flashing lights, flares, or appropriate channelization. At about 10:00 p.m. that evening, Moye was driving a MetPath van on his regular rounds when he crashed into the darkened trailer on 20th Avenue and was injured.
Moye's workers' compensation petition was filed in the State of New Jersey. He brought this negligence action against defendants in the State of New Jersey, naming among others, Jiminez (the driver), Arnel (the rig owner), and X-L (the shipper-operator). The issue of Moye's comparative fault was brought into issue by defendants.
Defendants have conceded that provisions of the New York Traffic Act govern the duties owed by the respective parties. Moreover, there appears to be no open issue respecting ability to hold the owner or operator liable for negligence of its driver under the law of either New Jersey or New York. Thus, there are no conflicts questions presented on appeal respecting owner liability nor as to which local law should govern the duties owed to and by persons using New York roads.
There is, however, a genuine conflict between the laws of New York, locus of both the underlying injury and the conduct giving rise to the injury, and New Jersey, the forum state and domicile of the injured parties, on the question of comparative fault. As recognized by the motion Judge, New York subscribes to a pure comparative negligence theory in which contributory negligence does not bar recovery but "the amount of damages otherwise recoverable is diminished in the proportion which culpable conduct attributable to the claimant bears to the culpable conduct which caused the damages." N.Y.Civ.Prac. L & R, Section 1411 (McKinney 1976). By contrast, New Jersey has adopted a modified approach, which, while not absolutely barring recovery by a claimant who has been ...