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As Massachusetts Goes, so Goes…

History buffs will remember a famous expression that grew out of a disastrous Liberty Digest magazine poll in 1936. That poll predicted a landslide for Republican Alf Landon over Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. I say disastrous not to express support for one or the other candidate but to describe how far off the mark the poll was. When Landon carried only two states, the expression became, “As Maine goes so goes Vermont.”

In a recent case I was hired to represent a passenger in a motor vehicle accident where the driver and passenger both came from Massachusetts but the injury occurred in a western state. This presents interesting choice of law questions. The auto insurance rules are governed by Massachusetts because it was a Massachusetts policy on the vehicle. The rules of the road, however, would be those of the state in which the accident occurred. Moreover, since the accident is brought in Massachusetts, where the parties reside, the Massachusetts court will have to use the laws of the state of the accident.

Practically speaking, the rules of the road do not vary much between the states. However, the fact that jurisdiction can be brought in Massachusetts is a big plus to the parties. That is not always the case as jurisdiction has to be where the defendant has sufficient minimum contacts. If the driver were from out-of-state and the accident occurred out-of-state, the action could not be brought in Massachusetts despite the plaintiff’s living here. In this instance, we do not have that problem and the action was filed in Massachusetts. But, as for the rules of the road, as Massachusetts goes, so goes Oregon.

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