Conflict of Laws-Torts-Application of Whole Law, Including Choice-of-Law Rules, of State of Negligent Act Under Federal Tort Claims Act
Representatives of passengers killed in an airplane crash in Missouri, due in part to the alleged negligence of government personnel in failing to enforce certain regulations of the Civil Aeronautics Act at an American Airlines’ overhaul depot in Oklahoma, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) (1958), section 410(a) of the Tort Claims Act of 1946, provides that the Government shall be liable for the tortious conduct of its employees, “under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” (Emphasis added.) The district court, interpreting section 1346(b) to require the application of the whole law, including the choice-of-law rules, of the place of negligence, dismissed the complaint on the ground that Oklahoma law referred the court to the Missouri Wrongful Death Act, and since 15,000 dollars, the maximum recovery allowed by that act, had been previously given or tendered to decedents’ representatives, further recovery was precluded. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed, one judge dissenting. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, held, affirmed. In order to effectuate the congressional intent that the United States be treated as an individual would be treated under like circumstances, section 1346(b) requires the application of the whole law, including the choice-of-law rules, of the state where the negligence occurs. Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1 (1962).