Supreme Court to hear case involving injured BNSF workers

Outcome will determine if US corporations can be sued in any state they have a presence
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case involving BNSF Railway about whether state courts can hear cases from workers injured in other states.

Specifically, the case of BNSF Railway versus Tyrrell addresses whether Montana courts have general personal jurisdiction over the railway company under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act and Montana law.

According to the Supreme Court Blog, the high court blocked a lawsuit in California against German automaker Daimler AG three years ago for actions it took in Argentina.
Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments on how broadly that ruling will sweep, and if it applies in the lawsuits against BNSF.

The plaintiffs in the case are Robert Nelson of North Dakota, who alleges that he suffered a serious knee injury while working for BNSF in Washington state as a fuel truck driver; and Kelli Tyrrell of South Dakota, who contends that her husband, Brent, contracted cancer and died as the result of his exposure to chemicals while working for BNSF in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. Nelson and Tyrrell filed lawsuits in state court in Montana under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, a federal law that allows railroad workers to sue their employers when they are injured. The Montana courts had jurisdiction over BNSF, they argued, because of the company’s extensive operations in the state: BNSF operates nearly 3,000 miles of railroad tracks and employs more than 2,000 people there.

BNSF argued that both cases should be dismissed, and a state court agreed. The state trial court concluded that BNSF, which is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Texas, was not — as the Supreme Court’s precedents require — “at home” in Montana. But the Montana Supreme Court allowed the case to go forward, based on what it described as BNSF’s “substantial, continuous and systematic activities within Montana.” The Montana Supreme Court agreed with the latter court, explaining that Montana courts had jurisdiction over BNSF because Federal law gives state courts jurisdiction over a defendant wherever the company does business — which, it ruled, BNSF does in Montana. In January of this year, the justices agreed to weigh in.

The question is, "Will the justices, including new Junior Justice Neil Gorsuch, focus on the text of the federal law, or instead on what the court meant by its unanimous ruling in Daimler three years ago?" — in which all of the current justices but Gorsuch participated.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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  • April 25, 2017
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