US Supreme Court Finds For Railroad in FELA Case

A recent Reuters article (Supreme Court tightens rules on where companies can be sued) highlighted yet another decision by the United States Supreme Court in favor of large corporations at the expense of the common man. Two employees sued railroad giant BNSF in Montana under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a federal law granting injured railroad workers the right to sue their employers for compensation in the event of a work-related injury.

Lawsuits can generally be brought against corporations in states where they have sufficiently significant contacts. Despite the fact that BNSF maintains more than 2,000 miles of railroad track and employs over 2,000 workers in Montana, the Court held that the state court does not have jurisdiction unless the corporation is based in the state or the injuries were suffered there.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg strayed from her usual liberal viewpoint to side with the Court’s conservative wing and author the Court’s majority opinion. “The business BNSF does in Montana is sufficient to subject the railroad to specific personal jurisdiction in that State on claims related to the business it does in Montana,” Ginsburg wrote. But jurisdiction does not extend to claims “that are unrelated to any activity occurring in Montana.”

FELA was specifically enacted by Congress to give injured railroad workers access to compensation for their injuries, but the Court’s decision severely limits that access. “Going forward, some injured rail workers may have to travel far from home just to reach a courthouse that can hear their claims,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Julie Murray. “Workers already suffering from disabling injuries caused by their employers shouldn’t have to bear that burden.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered the Court’s lone dissenting opinion in the 8-1 decision. “It is individual plaintiffs, harmed by the actions of a far-flung foreign corporation, who will bear the brunt of the majority’s approach and be forced to sue in distant jurisdictions with which they have no contacts or connection,” Sotomayor wrote.

This decision makes it more important than ever to hire an experienced FELA attorney if you are a railroad employee who has been injured on the job. DBJ has a long track record of successful FELA cases. Please call us today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.