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Ted Carris v. Marriot International, Inc.

466 F.3d 558, No. 06-1506 (7th Cir., October 16, 2006)

Bahamian Law Applied To Negligence Suit Arising Out Of A Vacation Booked Over Internet From Illinois

Court holds Bahamian law governs Illinois resident's negligence action arising out of personal injuries sustained in a jet ski accident at a Bahamian resort, notwithstanding fact that plaintiff booked his trip by accessing resort's website via a computer in Illinois.  This result is mandated by Illinois' conflict of law principles, which require a dispute to be governed by the law of the jurisdiction that has the "most significant relationship" to the events out of which the suit arose.

Plaintiff Injured In Bahamas

Plaintiff, an Illinois resident, was injured in a jet skiing accident at the Nassau Marriott Resort ("Nassau Marriot") in the Bahamas.  Plaintiff booked his vacation from a computer in Illinois, from which he accessed the website of the defendant Marriott International Inc. ("Marriott International").  This site, in turn, linked him to the website of Nassau Marriott, at which he booked his trip.

The jet ski was apparently rented from a concessionaire operating at (or near) the premises of the Nassau Marriott.  Plaintiff bought this suit, claiming that the Nassau Marriott's negligence in supervising the concessionaire, failing to give plaintiff appropriate instruction in the operation of the jet ski, and properly equipping the craft with a "kill" switch, caused his injuries.  Plaintiff sought to hold Marriott International responsible for this alleged negligence of Nassau Marriott's employees.  Because Marriott International did not own Nassau Marriott, however, plaintiff could not proceed on a theory of respondent superior.  Instead, plaintiff argued that, under Illinois law, such liability could be imposed on a theory of "apparent authority."

Defendant Marriott International moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  The lower court granted the motion, apparently on the ground that Bahamian law, which it held governed this dispute, did not, in tort cases, recognize liability predicated on the "apparent authority" theory espoused by plaintiff.

Bahamian Law Applies Despite Fact Trip Booked Over Internet From Illinois

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit confirmed that the instant dispute was governed by Bahamian law.  Under Illinois conflict of law principles, a dispute is governed by the "law of the jurisdiction that has the 'most significant relationship' to the events out of which the suit arose, and to the parties."  In tort cases, this is usually the law of the jurisdiction in which the tort occurs -- here, the Bahamas.

The fact that plaintiff booked his trip over the Internet, from a website accessible in his home state of Illinois, did not alter this result.  Said the Court:

[This] case … [is] in fact even more clear cut against applying Illinois law, because of the nature of the advertising that drew Carris to the Bahamian resort.  If he is right about Illinois principles of conflict of laws, any hotel chain that has a website (and it is doubtful that any hotel chain does not) subjects itself to the tort law of every country whose nationals stay at one of the hotels in the chain, or at least every country that has a conflict of laws standard as spongy as Illinois'.  The burden of compliance would be staggering, especially since different countries, having different ideas about safety, might impose inconsistent tort duties.  One jurisdiction might think the absence of airbags from vehicles negligent; another might think their presence negligent because of the danger to children.  So how would a hotel equip its airport shuttle van?

Nor was the Bahamas' presumed rejection of plaintiff's "apparent authority" theory of liability so offensive to the fundamental public policy of Illinois to cause it to insist on the application of Illinois law in lieu of Bahaman law.  The Court accordingly affirmed the dismissal of the complaint against Marriott International on the ground that Bahamian law did not permit a suit in tort against a party premised on an "apparent authority" theory, a proposition the Seventh Circuit noted was "probably … incorrect" but one it would nonetheless apply because both parties had agreed it was the law of the Bahamas.

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