Bread and Butter

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There is a tendency when blogging to focus on cases that that are (1) important, (2) novel, (3) strange, or (4) wrong. These are the sorts of cases that most people—and, candidly, the TLB editors—find to be most interesting. (My colleague Bill Dodge may be an exception.)

Every now and then, however, it is useful to take a step back and acknowledge that most cases are none of these things. These are the bread-and-butter cases that populate the dockets of state and federal courts across the United States. Although these cases are obviously important to the individual litigants, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the law writ large. They do not present novel legal issues. They do not present strange or unusual facts. And they are correctly decided under the relevant precedent.

These cases are not particularly interesting to experts. But they provide an essential baseline against which to measure precisely why other cases are important, novel, strange, or wrong. In this post, I discuss one such case—Varela v. Zavala Plus LLC (Judge Dennise Garcia), decided by the Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas—that applied Texas choice-of-law rules to ascertain the law governing a personal injury claim arising out of a bus crash in Mexico. Nothing about the case is exceptional. And that is precisely the point.


This lawsuit arose from a bus accident that occurred in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. The plaintiffs—all of whom were domiciled in Oklahoma or Kansas—were passengers traveling to the United States. They suffered significant injuries when the bus rolled over. The defendant was Zavala Plus LLC (“Zavala”), an entity organized under the laws of Texas with its principal place of business in Texas. Zavala owned the bus.

The plaintiffs sued Zavala in Texas state court, asserting an array of claims under Texas state law. Zavala argued that these claims were, in fact, governed by the laws of Zacatecas. After a two-day hearing on choice of law, the trial court ruled in favor of Zavala and held that “the substantive laws of Mexico” would apply to a number of issues relating to liability. Zavala then filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that appellants’ claims—as pleaded under Texas law—were not allowed under Zacatecan law. This motion was granted. The plaintiffs appealed.

Tort Claims

As a threshold question, the court of appeals had to decide whether there was a conflict between the laws of Texas and the laws of Zacatecas. It concluded that there was. It observed that: (1) Zacatecan law imposed significant limits on the damages that a plaintiff could recover; (2) the theories of liability available under Zacatecan law were quite different from those in Texas; and (3) the legal rules relating to causation were not the same across the two jurisdictions.

Having concluded that a conflict of laws existed, the court then proceeded to perform a choice-of-law analysis. The state courts of Texas apply the most significant relationship test in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Laws to resolve choice-of-law questions in tort cases. In light of the nature of the claims asserted—personal injury—one might have expected the court to focus on Section 146. Instead, the court devoted virtually all of its attention to Section 145, which states the general rule for tort cases.

Applying 145, the court first considered what contacts should be considered in determining which state had the most significant relationship to the accident and the parties. It noted that the injury and the conduct causing the injury had both occurred in Mexico. It noted that the defendant was domiciled in Texas and that the plaintiffs were domiciled in Oklahoma and Kansas. Finally, although the court declined to specify the jurisdiction where the parties’ relationship was centered, it held that this relationship was not centered in Texas. In light of this analysis, the court held that Zacatecas was the jurisdiction with the most significant relationship with this case under the factors set forth in Section 145.

The court then turned its attention to the factors outlined in Section 6. It reasoned that certain of these factors—the protection of justified expectations, the basic policies underlying the particular field of law, and certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result—were relatively insignificant in tort cases. It also discounted the factors focusing on the needs of the interstate and international systems and the ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied. In practice, therefore, the court’s analysis under Section 6 focused almost exclusively on the relevant policies of the forum (Texas) and the relevant policies of other interested state (Zacatecas).

The court noted that Zacatecas had an interest in “regulating traffic and deterring dangerous driving on its roads.” It pointed out that “the accident happened in Zacatecas, and appellants’ physical injuries occurred in Zacatecas.” While the court acknowledged that Zavala was organized and headquartered in Texas, thereby giving Texas some interest in regulating its conduct, it also observed that none of the plaintiffs were residents of Texas, which meant that that state lacked a strong interest in ensuring that these plaintiffs were “protected from harm and compensated for their injuries.” Ultimately, the court held that Zacatecas has a stronger interest in applying its tort laws on the facts presented.

Statute of Limitations

The plaintiffs also argued that the trial court erred in applying the six-month statute of limitations found in the Zacatecan Civil Code. They argued that statutes of limitations are procedural—not substantive—and that the trial court should have applied the applicable Texas statute of limitations to this claim. The court of appeals disagreed. It invoked the Section 71.031 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code—a borrowing statute—to hold that it was obliged to apply the statute of limitations of the jurisdiction where the accident took place. Because the accident took place in Zacatecas, the court concluded that it was required to apply that jurisdiction’s statute of limitations notwithstanding the fact that the Texas courts generally classify statutes of limitations as procedural for choice-of-law purposes. To state the matter simply, statutes trump common law rules. Since the claims were untimely under Zacatecan law, which was the applicable law under the statute. the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision on this issue.


To appreciate the extraordinary, it is have some exposure to the ordinary. Varela v. Zavala Plus LLC is unlikely to be excerpted in any casebook. But it offers a useful place to stand while surveying the many unusual and exotic cases discussed here at TLB.