Legal Memorandum: Choice of Law in Products Liability Cases

Issue: Under Massachusetts law, what approach do the courts take with respect to choice of law in products liability cases?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Products liability cases; Choice of law
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 366 N.E.2d 1245; 710 F. Supp. 864; 733 F.2d 1085; 5 Mass. App. Ct. 805; 26 Mass. App. Ct. 14; 360 N.E.2d 1286; 522 N.E.2d 989; 487 N.E.2d 860; 73 F.2d 359; 469 U.S. 858; 358 N.E.2d 416
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 146; Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 6
Date: 04/01/2001

           In Massachusetts, the applicable substantive law in tort actions has traditionally been determined by lex loci delicti.  See Pevoski v. Pevoski, 371 Mass. 358, 358 N.E.2d 416, 417 (1976) (applying Massachusetts law in a case involving an automobile accident in New York, Massachusetts residents and Massachusetts vehicles); Reed & Barton Corp. v. Maas, 73 F.2d 359, 361 (1st Cir. 1934) (in products liability action by Wisconsin plaintiff who was injured in Wisconsin against Massachusetts manufacturer, court applied Wisconsin law).  When applying the classical rule that the law of the place of the tort determines substantive rights, the court looks to the entire law of that state, including its choice-of-law rules.  Saharceski v. Marcure, 373 Mass. 304, 366 N.E.2d 1245, 1250 (1977).  Where the issue involves standards of conduct, the law of the place of the tort most likely controls, but the disposition of other issues must turn on the law of the jurisdiction that has the strongest interest in the resolution of a particular issue.  Pevoski, 358 N.E.2d at 471. 

In Cohen v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 389 Mass. 327, 450 N.E.2d 581 (1983), the Massachusetts Supreme Court analyzed the choice-of-law principles applicable to warranty of merchantability as essentially involving a tort claim.  The court noted that the state’s interest in enforcing the warranty involved not only the physical presence of the product in the state, but also the injury caused by the product in the state.  Id., […]

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