WHICH STATE’S LAW IS USED BY THE COURT IF A WRONGFUL ACT OCCURS IN ONE STATE AND THE RESULTING INJURY OCCURS IN ANOTHER STATE?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Ling v. Jan’s Liquors, 703 P.2d 731 (Kan. 1985).
This case addresses the following issue:
Which state’s law is used by the court if a wrongful act occurs in one state and the resulting injury occurs in another state?
This case explored the issue of what state’s law is used by the court if a wrongful act occurs in one state and the resulting injury occurs in another state. In exploring this case, the court concluded that the rule in Kansas was that the law of the state where the wrongful act occurred applied. Id. at 735. In other words, the site of the injury determined the governing law. Id.
The plaintiff brought this lawsuit in the trial court alleging negligence on the part of the defendant, a liquor store, for selling alcohol to a minor whose intoxication allegedly resulted in a car accident causing the plaintiff’s injury. Id. at 732. The minor bought the liquor from the defendant in Missouri and the accident with the plaintiff occurred in Kansas. Id. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff sustained severe injuries which resulted in the amputation of both her legs. Id. at 733. The trial court found in favor of the defendant and held that (1) there was no liquor vendor liability in Kansas and there was no indication that the Kansas Supreme Court would impose such liability; and (2) Kansas law and not Missouri law should apply to the instant action. Id. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Kansas had to decide whether Kansas or Missouri law would be used to decide this case. Id. at 735. The plaintiff believed Missouri law should have been used because Missouri had a law where a tavern owner could be held liable for selling intoxicating liquor to a minor. Id. On the other hand, the defendant agreed with the trial court and believed Kansas law should be used because there was no liquor vendor liability in Kansas and the defendant did not have to pay any damages. Id.
In attempting to persuade the court that Missouri law should be used, the plaintiff argued that the rule in Kansas was that the law of the state where the wrongful act occurred was applied to determine the rights of the parties. Id. Since the plaintiff argued that the wrongful act was the unlawful sale of liquor to a minor, which occurred in Missouri, than Missouri law should apply and the defendant should be held liable. Id. On the contrary, the defendant argued that Kansas courts were to apply the law of the state where the injury occurred (car accident) and, since the injury in this case occurred in Kansas, Kansas law should govern. Id.
In order to determine whose state laws to use, the court looked to Kansas law which stated that the law of the state where the wrongful act occurred should apply. Id. However, the court acknowledged that it had never addressed a case where the negligent act (sell of liquor to minor) originated outside the state, but the resultant injury occurred in the state. Id. Since this was an issue the court had never addressed, they cited a federal case which stated, “The general rule is that where an act occurs at one place and resulting death, personal injury, or damage takes place at another, the site of the actionable wrong is the place at which the death, personal injury or property damages takes place.” Id.
In sum, the court concluded that the trial court was correct in applying Kansas law because the plaintiff was injured in Kansas. Id.