HP Obtains First-Ever Appellate Ruling Requiring Application of Laws of Iran in Asbestos Case

Posted on Friday, 07 July 2017

Applying foreign law in a state court is rare, especially when the law is that of a country that has no current diplomatic relations with the United States. Yet, HP partner Charles Park persuaded the California Court of Appeal to order the application of Iranian law in an asbestos case.

 

Plaintiffs claimed that former Iranian citizen Mahmoud Ghazanfarpour developed mesothelioma (a fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs) from exposure to asbestos when he worked at oil refineries and pipelines in Iran in the 1970’s, decades before he immigrated to California. Plaintiffs insisted that even though all of the asbestos exposure had occurred in Iran, California law should apply due to the fact that Mr. Ghazanfarpour was diagnosed with, treated for and died from mesothelioma in California, where he was a long term resident. The trial court agreed. 

 

Mr. Park petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandamus,* which the First Appellate District quickly issued, holding that choice-of-law decisions do not “turn on events happening after the accident,” and that Iran has a substantial interest in “establishing a reliable rule of law governing a business’s potential liability for conduct undertaken” within its borders.

 

Why did plaintiffs really want to have California law applied? Because Iranian law differs from California law in several important respects: Iran does not permit joint and several liability or punitive damages in this type of case, and it caps compensatory damages. The Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to enter a new order granting defendants’ Motion to Apply Laws of Iran at trial.

 

The four-page decision and two-page order were issued in Foster Wheeler LLC v. Superior Court of Solano County, Court of Appeal Case No. A151394 (July 7, 2017), linked here.

 

 

* Writs are considered "extraordinary" relief because they allow a party to "cut in line" in the appellate process and appellate courts are reluctant to engage in piecemeal review of trial court proceedings: "We deny the vast majority of petitions we see and we rarely explain why." Science Application International Corp. v. Superior Court (1995) 39 Cal.App.4"' 1095, 1100.

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