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April 2015

Mexican Law Applies to Helicopter Accident Litigation in Delaware

In Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. v. Arteaga (No. 333,2014, ___ A.3d ___, 2015 Del. LEXIS 176), the Delaware Supreme Court held that Mexican law governed liability, damages, and remedies in seven lawsuits filed in the aftermath of a 2010 helicopter crash in Mexico. Philadelphia partner Catherine Slavin argued the appeal on behalf of appellant Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.

The Chief Justice, writing for the 4-1 majority, noted that neither party contended that Delaware law should apply and that Delaware's only connection to litigation is that Bell is incorporated in Delaware. Where Delaware law is not at stake, deference should be shown to the foreign state with the most significant relationship to the parties and the occurrence.

The court held that the place where the injury occurred, the law of which is presumptively applicable under Section 146 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, was not fortuitous. The accident occurred when Mexican citizens boarded a helicopter that had been operated in Mexico since 1979 to travel from one location in Mexico to another.

Analyzing the contacts in Section 145(2) of the Restatement, the court found that Texas, where Bell is based and parts were manufactured, did not have a more significant relationship to the injury and the parties. Turning to the policy considerations in Section 6 of the restatement, the court determined that those, too, strongly favored application of Mexican law. The most important of the Section 6 policy principles is the needs of interstate and international systems. Mexico has made legislative judgments to balance competing policy interests, which should be neither reexamined nor disregarded by Delaware courts.

One justice dissented because, in his view, the plaintiffs successfully rebutted the presumption that the place of injury should apply so as to allow application of Texas law.

To read the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion, click here.

Catherine Slavin