In our last blog post, we discussed guest statutes, and how they used to impact passengers that got hurt in car accidents that were caused by the driver of their car. While these guest statutes used to be in effect in lots of other states in the U.S., Missouri never enacted one. However, just because Missouri didn’t have a guest statute didn’t mean that they could never play a part in personal injury cases in Missouri, or cases involving Missouri natives. Because of choice of law principles, guest statutes could apply in Missouri if the circumstances of the case were just right.
Guest Statutes and Car Accidents
After intensive lobbying efforts by insurance companies, guest statutes were enacted in about half of the states in the country, back in the 1920s and 30s. They’ve since been repealed by nearly all of the states that enacted them. However, guest statutes serve as an excellent example of showing how choice of law works.
A guest statute prevented passengers from filing a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of their car, if the driver had negligently caused the crash that injured the passenger. Based on initial reports, this seems to be what happened in a fatal crash this past weekend: A driver from Nebraska lost control of his car and caused a single-vehicle accident on the highway between Kansas City and St. Joseph, Missouri. The driver was killed in the crash, and the passenger, also from Nebraska, was seriously hurt.
While Nebraska repealed its guest statute in 2010, if it were still in existence it might have impacted a personal injury lawsuit that stemmed from the accident. This is true, even though the crash happened in Missouri, which has never had a guest statute.
Choice of Law Principles
In the United States, there are 51 sets of laws – one for each state, and another set for the federal government. In some areas, these laws contradict each other. When the laws of the federal government contradict a state’s laws, the federal law wins because of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
However, it’s more complicated when the laws of two states contradict each other. In circumstances like these – like when Nebraska’s guest statute would prohibit a personal injury lawsuit, but Missouri’s lack of a guest statute would allow it – the court hearing the case has to determine which one applies.
In Missouri, this involves looking at the case and determining which state has the most significant relationship to it. If another state, like Nebraska, has a closer relationship to what happened, then Missouri will apply the laws of that state to the case.
St. Joseph Car Accident Attorneys at the Smith Law Office
Choice of law problems are notoriously difficult. However, which law gets applied to your case can make a huge difference in the outcome, or even in whether you can file the claim at all.
The personal injury attorneys at the Smith Law Office know this and understand how to represent your interests in court. Contact us online or at (816) 875-9373 for the legal representation you need to get the compensation you deserve.