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U.S. Supreme Court

Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1 (1962)

Richards v. United States

No. 59

Argued November 15, 1961

Decided February 26, 1962

369 U.S. 1


Petitioners are the personal representatives of passengers killed when a commercial airplane crashed in Missouri while en route from Oklahoma to New York. The maximum amount recoverable under the Missouri Wrongful Death Act had either been paid or tendered to them by the airline; but they sued in a Federal District Court in Oklahoma to recover from the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act additional amounts which they claimed to be due them under the Oklahoma Wrongful Death Act, which contains no limitation on the amount a single person may recover from a tortfeasor. They claimed that the Government, through the Federal Aviation Agency, had negligently failed to enforce the terms of the Civil Aeronautics Act and regulations thereunder which prohibited the practices then being used by the airline in its overhaul depot in Oklahoma. The District Court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 369 U. S. 2-16.

(a) In the Tort Claims Act, Congress has enacted a rule which requires federal courts, in multistate tort actions, to look in the first instance to the law of the State where the acts of negligence took place. Pp. 369 U. S. 6-10.

(b) A reading of the statute as a whole, with due regard to its purpose, requires application of the whole law of the State where chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 369 U. S. 2

the act or omission occurred, including its choice of laws rules. Pp. 369 U. S. 10-15.

(c) Both the Federal District Court in Oklahoma and the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit have interpreted the pertinent Oklahoma decisions as declaring that an action for wrongful death is based on the statute of the place where the injury occurred that caused the death; that determination of the question of state law is accepted by this Court, and is controlling here; the Missouri statute, therefore, controls this case, and petitioners have failed to state claims upon which relief could be granted. Pp. 369 U. S. 15-16.

285 F.2d 521, affirmed.

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