United States District Court, D. New Jersey
December 13, 2005.
SUSAN WHITE, et al., Plaintiffs,
INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANNE THOMPSON, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Apply Virginia
Substantive Law made by Defendants International Hotels
Group*fn1 and Holiday Inn Select. The Court has decided this
motion based upon the submissions of the parties and without oral
argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78. For the following
reasons, Defendants' motion is granted.
Plaintiff Susan White and her husband, Plaintiff Kenneth White,
are domiciliaries of New Jersey. Defendants are the owners of the
Holiday Inn Select Hotel in Lynchberg, Virginia.*fn2 In
early July 2002, the Whites stayed at Defendants' hotel while
vacationing in Virginia. The Whites allege that, during that
trip, Mrs. White injured her foot and leg on a "trip hazard" that Defendants had negligently failed to remove from the hotel's
The issue now before the Court is whether New Jersey or
Virginia law will govern Plaintiffs' negligence claim. In
analyzing this issue, the Court must apply the choice of law
rules of New Jersey, the forum state. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor
Elect. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 497 (1941); Echols v. Pelullo,
377 F.3d 272, 275 (3d Cir. 2004). New Jersey resolves choice of
law issues using a "governmental-interest" analysis, under which
"the determinative law is that of the state with the greatest
interest in governing the particular issue." Veazey v. Doremus,
103 N.J. 244, 247-48 (1986). "[C]hoice of law determinations are
made on an issue-by-issue basis, with each issue receiving
separate analysis." Erny v. Estate of Merola, 171 N.J. 86, 94
(2002) (citing Veazey, 103 N.J. at 247).
The Court must first determine if there is a conflict between
the negligence laws of Virginia and New Jersey. If there is an
actual conflict, the Court must then "identify the governmental
policies underlying the law of each state, and how those policies
are affected by each state's contacts to the litigation and to
the parties." Veazey, 103 N.J. at 248. "If a state's contacts
are not related to the policies underlying its law, then that
state does not possess an interest in having its law apply."
The state laws at issue here are distinctly in conflict. See,
e.g., O'Connor v. Busch Gardens, 255 N.J. Super. 545, 548-49.
Virginia has maintained the common law rule of contributory
negligence, under which any negligence on the part of the
plaintiff will bar recovery. Litchford v. Hancock, 232 Va. 496,
499 (1987) ("Negligence of the parties may not be compared, and
any negligence of a plaintiff which is a proximate cause of the
accident will bar a recovery." (citing Fein v. Wade,
191 Va. 203, 210 (1950))). New Jersey, in contrast, has enacted a comparative negligence statute, "which does not so greatly
penalize an injured person who shares responsibility for the
injury." O'Connor, 255 N.J. Super. at 549 (citing N.J. Stat.
Ann. § 2A:15-5.1-.8 (West 2005); Ostrowski v. Azzara,
111 N.J. 429, 437 (1988)).
Underlying Virginia's contributory negligence law is its
"significant interest in deterring unsafe property conditions and
unsafe conduct of people and enterprises located there."
O'Connor, 255 N.J. Super. at 549. Virginia's law also advances
its policy interests in protecting defendants from claims and in
holding down insurance costs. Shuder v. McDonald's Corp.,
859 F.2d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 1988) (Greenberg, J.). Those policies are
directly implicated by Virginia's contacts with this litigation,
and Virginia accordingly possesses a great interest in having its
While New Jersey does not have a significant policy interest in
deterring unsafe conditions and conduct in Virginia or in the
cost of purchasing insurance there, New Jersey's comparative
negligence law does advance its legitimate policy interest in
"the fair compensation of injured New Jersey residents."
O'Connor, 255 N.J. Super. at 549. This policy, however, is at
most tangentially related to New Jersey's contacts with this
litigation. New Jersey's status as the forum state is irrelevant,
and its status as Plaintiffs' state of domicile "cannot exempt
them from other states' law setting standards for local
conditions and conduct." Id.; see also Shuder,
859 F.2d at 272 ("Surely Virginia has an interest in how persons conduct
themselves within the state. The place of the accident was not
fortuitous . . . [r]ather, the accident arose from the use of and
condition of property, traditionally matters of local control.").
Although New Jersey has an interest in the application of its
comparative negligence law in this case, the Court finds that
interest to be substantially outweighed by Virginia's interest in having its contributory negligence law apply. The Court therefore
concludes that, under New Jersey's choice of law rules, it must
apply Virginia's contributory negligence law.
For these reasons, and for good cause shown,
IT IS on this 12th day of December, 2005,
ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Apply Virginia Substantive
Law  is GRANTED.
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