The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolin, District Judge.
These three consolidated actions arise as a result of the crash of a
small private aircraft in Brandywyne, Maryland, on October 2, 1996. This
matter comes before the Court on the parties' motions for a ruling as to
the applicable substantive law governing this action. Specifically, the
United States seeks a determination that Maryland law governs all claims
asserted against it pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1346 ("FTCA") and that Maryland law also governs its
cross-claims against co-defendants. The remaining defendants argue that
Maryland law should also govern the state law claims between the
parties. Plaintiffs argue that New Jersey law should govern all state law
claims. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that Maryland
law governs all claims asserted against the United States under the
FTCA; that New Jersey law governs the state law claims between the
parties on the issue of damages; and that Maryland law governs the issue
of apportionment of fault and thus the cross-claims for contribution
between the parties.
On October 2, 1996, Elmer W. Schaal, Jr. was piloting a single engine
Piper aircraft carrying passenger Nicholas Adamo and Stanley Clawans. The
plane departed from Somerville, New Jersey, with an intended destination
of Washington Executive Airport in Clinton, Maryland. (Shapiro Aff., Ex.
N, ¶ 10). The purpose of the flight was for Mr. Adamo and Mr. Clawans
to attend a business meeting in Maryland. (Gibbons Cert., Ex. 2). Both
Mr. Adamo and Mr. Clawans as well as pilot Schaal were residents of New
Jersey. (Shapiro Aff., Ex. A, ¶ 1; Ex. H, ¶ 3; Ex. N, ¶ 1).
The plane was owned by Lelia Schlott, who is also a resident of New
Jersey. (Id., Ex. B, ¶ 8, 15).
Before reaching its intended destination, the plane crashed in
Brandywyne, Maryland, killing all three occupants on board. (Id., Ex. B,
Thereafter, three separate wrongful death actions were filed. Despite
the number of claims, there are essentially three theories of liability
relating to the plane crash. First, there are claims that pilot Schaal
negligently operated the aircraft by, inter alia violating his air
traffic control clearance and descending below his assigned altitude.
Second, there are claims brought pursuant to the FTCA, that the air
traffic controllers at the Washington National Terminal Radar Approach
Control Facility ("TRACON") in Alexandria, Virginia, which is operated by
the Federal Aviation Administration, negligently failed to notify pilot
Schaal that he was approaching the airport at an altitude that was too
low, and failed to relay critical audio and visual safety warnings.
Finally, there are claims against owner Schott that she negligently
failed to provide an airworthy aircraft.
Roslyn Clawans first filed an action for the wrongful death of Stanley
Clawans against the United States and the Estate of pilot Schaal. (Id.,
Ex. A). Schaal's executor filed a third party complaint against owner
Schott and the County of Somerset*fn1 and a cross-claim for contribution
against the United States. (Id., Ex. B). The United States filed a
cross-claim for contribution against the Estate of Schaal, and Schott
filed cross-claims against co-defendants for contribution. (Id., Ex. D,
E). The County of Somerset filed cross-claims for contribution. (Id.,
Plaintiff Richard Adamo, Nicholas Adamo's father, filed a second action
for the wrongful death of his son against the United States, the Estate
of Schaal and Schott. (Id., Ex. H). The Estate of Schaal filed a third
party complaint against the County of Somerset and cross-claims for
contribution against the United States and Schott. (Id., Ex. I) The
United States filed a cross-claim for contribution against the Estate of
Schaal and Schott filed cross-claims for contribution against all
defendants. (Id., Ex. J, K). The County of Somerset also filed
cross-claims for contribution. (Id., Ex. L)
Plaintiff Ethel Schaal filed a third action for the wrongful death of
pilot Elmer Schaal, Jr., against the United States and Schott. (Id., Ex.
N). Schott impleaded the Estate of Schaal as a third-party defendant and
asserted cross-claims for contribution. (Id., Ex. O)*fn2
1. The Claims Under the FTCA
All three actions against the United States were brought pursuant to
the FTCA. The FTCA confers exclusive jurisdiction on federal district
courts for claims against the United States for "personal injury or death
caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of
the Government," and further provides that such liability should be
determined "in accordance with the law of the place where the act or
omission occurred." 28 U.S.C. § 1346 (b). The phrase "law of the
place" has been construed to include that state's conflict of laws
principles. Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 82 S.Ct. 585, 7 L.Ed.2d
492 (1962). Because the alleged negligent acts of the air traffic
controllers occurred in Virginia, the rights and liability of the United
States are governed by the law of the State of Virginia.
In the motion before the Court, none of the parties dispute that
Maryland law applies to all claims against the United States pursuant to
the FTCA. Accordingly, this Court holds that all claims asserted against