South-Western Legal Studies in Business

California Law Governs Tort Claim of Nebraska Resident Alleging Injury Suffered in California Hotel
Description Appeals court held that a qualified expert witness may give testimony that conflicts with other expert testimony, so long as the testimony is within the area of qualified expertise. The fact that experts disagree is not a reason to exclude testimony.
Topic Court Procedure
Key Words Choice of Law; Dominant Interest
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Malenas, residents of Nebraska, stayed at a Marriott Hotel in California. When Audrey Malenas reached to pick up something that had fallen behind the nightstand, she was stuck in the hand by a hypodermic needle and syringe, which penetrated to her muscle. She immediately sought treatment at a medical center in San Francisco. Later, over the next two years, she was tested in Nebraska for HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases that could have been contracted. The Malenas sued Marriott in state court in Nebraska for negligence for fear of contracting disease. Marriott moved for application of California law to the case, but the motion was denied. The jury awarded over $200,000 in damages. Marriott appealed.

Reversed. Conflict of laws becomes relevant when there are differences between the relevant laws of the two states. Under Nebraska law, a plaintiff may potentially recover damages for the mental anguish of reasonably fearing AIDS resulting from possible exposure, as occurred in this case. Under California law, the plaintiff must prove that a substance entered the body and caused a detrimental change to the body; fear that a substance has entered the body is not adequate. Since the conduct and the injury occurred in California, that state has the dominant interest in regulating the conduct and in determining whether it is tortuous in character. By traveling to California, the Malenas should anticipate that its law would govern any torts that result from conduct and injury occurring there.

Citation Malena v. Marriott International, Inc., 651 N.W.2d 850 (Sup. Ct., Neb., 2002)

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