Governing Law

Generally, the law of the place where the tort or wrong has been committed is the law by which liability is determined[i].  The lex loci delicti, or place of the tort or wrong, determines the substantive rights of the parties in airplane crash cases[ii].

The Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act provides that the law of the state in which the crash occurred will be the law for decision, in both its choice of law and its substantive aspects, except to the extent that such law is inconsistent with or preempted by federal law[iii].

However, for claims arising out of a disaster befalling a plane aloft, the place of the crash is often random, and thus legitimate reasons to deviate from the lex loci delicti rule may exist[iv].

In certain jurisdictions, choice of law principles require an interest analysis.  An interest analysis entails finding the jurisdiction having the greatest interest in the litigation, where the jurisdiction’s interest is measured in terms of the purpose of the particular law in conflict[v].

The decision of each choice of law question must turn on the law of the jurisdiction which has the strongest interest in the resolution of the particular issue presented[vi].

The most significant relationship or center of gravity test requires consideration of several factors to determine which state has a more significant interest in having their law applied.

The governmental interest approach seeks to identify which jurisdictions may have an actual interest in having their substantive law apply to a particular controversy.  The relevant factors include[vii]:

  • the needs of the interstate and international systems;
  • the relevant policies of the forum;
  • the relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interest of those states in the determination of the particular issue;
  • the protection of justified expectations;
  • the basic policies underlying the particular field of law;
  • certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result; and
  • ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied.


In re September 11th Litig., 494 F. Supp. 2d 232 (S.D.N.Y. 2007), the court held that when the conflicting rules involve the appropriate standards of conduct, the law of the place of the tort will usually have a predominant, if not exclusive, concern.

[i] Ferguson v. TWA, 135 F. Supp. 2d 1304 (N.D. Ga. 2000).

[ii] Yates v. Lowe, 179 Ga. App. 888 (Ga. Ct. App. 1986).

[iii] In re September 11th Litig., 494 F. Supp. 2d 232 (S.D.N.Y. 2007).

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] George v. Douglas Aircraft Co., 332 F.2d 73 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1964).

[vii] In re Korean Air Lines Disaster of September 1, 935 F. Supp. 10 (D.D.C. 1996).

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