This action is before the Court on review of a decision by the Fourth District Court
The petitioner, Mrs. Sturiano, was injured when the car in which she was a passenger, struck a tree. Her husband, Vito Sturiano, the driver of the car, was killed in the collision, and Mrs. Sturiano brought an action against his estate alleging negligence on the part of Mr. Sturiano. Because Mrs. Sturiano was also the personal representative of her husband's estate, a guardian ad litem was appointed to represent the interests of the estate. Other than Mrs. Sturiano, Vito Sturiano was survived by no heirs or lineal descendents.
Following a jury verdict for Mrs. Sturiano and a reduction to the amount of applicable insurance coverage, Brooks, the guardian ad litem, appealed to the fourth district. That court held the doctrine of interspousal immunity did not bar the action, reasoning that the traditional policy reasons for maintaining the doctrine simply did not apply. However, the court reversed the verdict, holding the doctrine of lex loci contractus required that New York law apply because the contract was executed there. Under a New York statute, the action is barred unless the insurance policy specifically includes coverage for claims between spouses. Absent such a provision, no coverage exists. The fourth district then certified questions regarding both issues to this Court.
Both certified questions involve challenges to established common law doctrines followed in Florida. The first question, which we will answer last, involves the conflict of laws doctrine known as lex loci contractus. The other question, which we shall address first, requires this Court to again examine the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity. That question, as phrased by the district court, asks:
497 So.2d at 979. We answer this question in the negative and approve the district court decision regarding the issue of interspousal tort immunity.
The doctrine of interspousal tort immunity has a long and established history in Florida law. This common law doctrine has, until this decade, barred actions by one spouse against the other.
These policy considerations have been debated strenuously in judicial opinions for many years. The doctrine of interspousal tort immunity has its origins in the fiction that the marriage of two people creates a unified entity of one singular person.
This Court's most recent pronouncement on this issue, Snowten v. United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co., 475 So.2d 1211 (Fla. 1985), demonstrates the application of interspousal immunity. In that case, the injured plaintiff and the negligent defendant spouse were both living. Any recovery would be covered by an applicable insurance policy, so there was ample reason to believe collusion was a possibility. Alternatively, the spectre of a lawsuit by one spouse charging negligence against the other spouse would be extremely disruptive to the family, causing significant disharmony within the family unit. This state has long maintained a policy of promoting family harmony. The lawsuit in the Snowten case would have only served to promote marital discord, assuming the couple was not working in collusion to perpetrate a fraud upon the insurance company.
In this case, however, there is no fear of disharmony or collusion. Sadly, Vito Sturiano is dead, leaving only Mrs. Sturiano as the sole remaining member of the family. While this tragedy works a great loss on Mrs. Sturiano, it also clears the way for an action against the estate. Because the family unit died with Vito Sturiano, there is no marital harmony to disrupt, no domestic tranquility to destroy. Moreover, we cannot presume any possibility of collusion or fraud when there is nobody with whom she could conspire.
Brooks, the guardian ad litem, argues that the doctrine of interspousal immunity should continue without exception, regardless of the absence of policy reasons for doing so. He contends that Snowten should control and interspousal tort immunity must apply in all cases involving actions between spouses to maintain consistency in law. We disagree. Snowten is clearly distinguishable on the facts. In that case, because both spouses were alive, the policy reasons for barring the action were strong. Here, because the defendant spouse is deceased, the policy reasons for barring the action do not exist. Moreover, in this case, there are no surviving lineal descendents, and thus no one left to be victimized by a disruption of the family unit. We will not blindly adhere to a doctrine that has no application to these facts. To do so would promote injustice for the sake of expediency and consistency.
We note at this point that Snowten and the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity are still good law. Actions between spouses must be barred when the policy reasons for maintaining the doctrine exist, such as the fear of disruption of the family or other marital discord, or the possibility of fraud or collusion. However, under the circumstances of this case, we hold that when no such policy considerations exist, the doctrine of interspousal tort immunity is waived to the extent of applicable liability insurance.
The other question posed by the fourth district requires us to address the doctrine of lex loci contractus. Specifically, we must examine whether the rule requiring that the laws of the jurisdiction where the contract was executed should apply. The fourth district has certified the following question:
497 So.2d at 979. We answer the certified question in the affirmative, limiting this answer to contracts for automobile insurance, and approve the decision of the district court.
The Sturianos, lifelong residents of New York, purchased automobile insurance in New York six years prior to the accident which took the life of Vito Sturiano and injured Josephine Sturiano. Subsequently, the couple moved to Florida each year for the winter months. They did not notify the insurance company of this migration, and the insurance company had no way of knowing that such a move had taken place.
Under the doctrine of lex loci contractus, it is clear that New York law must apply. That rule specifies that the law of the jurisdiction where the contract was executed should control. However, in recent years this doctrine has been criticized and, in several jurisdictions,
That test, as stated in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 188 (1971), provides:
Thus, under the Restatement view, and seemingly the trend of courts around the nation, the place the contract is executed is only one of five factors used in determining which jurisdiction's law should control.
Sturiano argues that in this modern, migratory society, choice of law rules must be flexible to allow courts to apply the laws which best accommodate the parties and the host jurisdiction. She contends that the archaic and inflexible rule of lex loci contractus does not address modern issues or problems in the area of conflict of laws. While it is true that lex loci contractus is an inflexible rule, we believe that this inflexibility is necessary to ensure stability in contract arrangements. When parties come to terms in an agreement, they do so with the implied acknowledgment that the laws of that jurisdiction will control absent some provision to the contrary. This benefits both parties, not merely an insurance company. The view espoused in the Restatement fails, in our opinion, to adequately provide security to the parties to a contract.
Although lex loci contractus is old, it is not yet outdated. The very reason Sturiano gives as support for discarding lex loci contractus, namely that we live in a migratory, transitory society, provides support for upholding that doctrine. Parties have a
We recognize that this Court has discarded the analogous doctrine of lex loci delicti with respect to tort actions
For these reasons, we answer the certified question concerning conflict of laws in the affirmative, limiting that answer to situations involving automobile insurance policies. As stated, we answer the certified question concerning interspousal immunity in the negative and approve the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
It is so ordered.
McDONALD, C.J., and OVERTON, SHAW and BARKETT, JJ., concur.
GRIMES, J., concurs with an opinion, in which OVERTON, J., concurs.
EHRLICH, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with an opinion.
GRIMES, Justice, concurring.
The more I read of it the more I tend to agree with Dean Prosser when he said that "[t]he realm of the conflict of laws is a dismal swamp, filled with quaking quagmires, and inhabited by learned but eccentric professors who theorize about mysterious matters in a strange and incomprehensible jargon. The ordinary court, or lawyer, is quite lost when engulfed and entangled in it."
The rule of lex loci contractus has been roundly criticized as mechanistic
In this complex area of law concerning which I claim no expertise, I am inclined toward the recommendations of the American Law Institute. Because contractual disputes arise in such a great variety of settings, rules of broad application cannot do justice to the various interests and expectations involved. While the application of the significant relationship test may be less certain, it reflects a more realistic standard by which a choice of laws may be made. Furthermore, I believe the majority's
I nevertheless agree with the result reached in the instant case because it would come out the same under the Restatement. Section 193 of the Second Restatement sets forth a more specific rule with respect to casualty insurance:
Here, the policy was issued by a New York company to an insured with a New York address to cover an automobile presumably garaged in New York. When the policy was issued, the insurer was entitled to assume that its potential for liability under the contract would not be increased by its policyholder taking the car to another state. In fact, there was nothing in the record to indicate that the insurer even knew that the insured kept the car in Florida for a substantial period of time each year. Thus, under any theory of conflicts, New York law should apply.
OVERTON, J., concurs.
EHRLICH, Justice, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I concur with the Court's opinion as to the certified question last answered dealing with the conflict of law question, and I concur with the Court's reasoning in its response to the certified question first answered relating to the applicability of the doctrine of interspousal immunity, but I do not agree with the Court's answer to the question as phrased.
The Court expressly recognized that "Snowten,
I agree with the Court that there are no policy considerations in this case for maintaining the doctrine of interspousal immunity for the reasons well articulated in the opinion, and, in my view, where this is the case, the doctrine should not exist. The existence vel non of liability insurance should play no part.
The bottom line of the Court's decision is that even though the plaintiff has recovered a judgment, it will be set aside because this Court has held, and correctly so, that New York law applies and hence there is no applicable insurance coverage, and since there is no insurance coverage, there is no waiver of interspousal immunity.
I would rephrase the certified question to read "Does the doctrine of interspousal immunity bar an otherwise valid claim by an injured passenger's spouse against the estate of the deceased spouse who died as a result of the accident, and whose negligence proximately caused such injuries." I