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Laugelle v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

October 1, 2013

SUSAN DURKIN LAUGELLE, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Joseph Laugelle, Jr., deceased, and as Next Friend to Anna Grace Laugelle and Margaret Grace Laugelle, Plaintiffs,
v.
BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON, INC., et al., Defendants.

Submitted: September 9, 2013

Gary Aber, Esquire, Law Offices of Gary Aber, Wilmington, Delaware, Arthur Alan Wolk, Esquire, pro hac vice, Bradley J. Stoll, Esquire (argued), pro hac vice, Cynthia M. Devers, Esquire, pro hac vice, Michael S. Miska, Esquire, pro hac vice, The Wolk Law Firm, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

Richard Barkasy, Esquire (argued), Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant Rolls-Royce Corporation and Rolls-Royce North America, Inc.

Richard Galperin, Esquire and David Soldo, Esquire, Morris James LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, V.L. Woolston, Esquire, Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Honeywell International, Inc.

OPINION

Paul R. Wallace, Judge

I. Introduction

This wrongful death action arises out of a helicopter crash that occurred on December 11, 2008, in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Sabine Pass, Texas.[1] Joseph Laugelle, Jr., the pilot of the helicopter ("Pilot"), was transporting four passengers to an off-shore oil rig when the helicopter went down about two miles offshore.[2]

In December 2010, Plaintiff Susan Durkin Laugelle, the Pilot's wife, brought suit against the manufacturers of the helicopter, its engine, and its engine accessories, as well as a company that previously owned and maintained the helicopter. Mrs. Laugelle alleges, inter alia, that her husband died as a result of chest injuries and asphyxia due to drowning.[3]She seeks damages for wrongful death on behalf of herself, as personal representative of the Pilot's estate, and as next friend to the Laugelles' two minor daughters. Defendants have filed a motion to determine which state's law the Court should apply to the Plaintiffs' claims for compensatory damages. This is the Court's decision on that discrete issue.[4]

II. Factual and Procedural Background

On July 3, 2013, Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Limited, Rolls-Royce Corporation, Air Logistics, LLC, Bristow Group, Inc., and Honeywell International Inc. (collectively "Defendants") jointly filed a motion to determine applicable law, in which they requested that the Court rule that Massachusetts law governs Plaintiffs' claim for compensatory damages.

Mrs. Laugelle and her two children are citizens and residents of Massachusetts.[5] The Pilot was also a citizen and resident of Massachusetts at the time of his death, [6] and his estate is established under Massachusetts law.[7] While some of the Defendant companies are incorporated in Delaware, all are headquartered elsewhere, in a variety of different states and countries.[8]

III. Discussion

As the forum jurisdiction, Delaware's choice-of-laws rules are used to determine the applicable law on a particular issue in a specific case.[9] The matter of the measure of compensatory damages is substantive, not procedural, and may, therefore, be properly subjected to a choice-of-law analysis.[10]

Under Delaware's choice-of-law approach, a court conducts a two-part inquiry.[11] As the Delaware Supreme Court recently made clear in Deuley v. DynCorp International, Inc., it must be first determined that there is an actual – rather than no or merely a 'false' – conflict.[12] If there is no actual conflict, "the Court should avoid the choice-of-law analysis altogether, "[13] but if a true conflict exists, the Court then applies the "most significant relationship" test as outlined in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws.[14] In determining whether there is an actual conflict, Delaware state courts (and the ...


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