SCOTUS Blocks Railroad Injury Claims
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a legal theory that would have given asbestos injury attorneys a new industry to attack with lawsuits.
SCOTUS ruled this past Wednesday in favor of companies involved with the design and manufacture of locomotives and their parts. The estate of the late George Corson, a welder and machinist for a railroad carrier, had sued Railroad Friction Products Corp. and Viad Corp. in Philadelphia, alleging injury from exposure to asbestos in trains and train parts distributed by the companies.
The estate's design-defect and failure-to-warn claims were preempted by the federal Locomotive Inspection Act, the court held in a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas. The decision was in line with one made by the court 85 years ago in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line.
"(P)etitioners contend that the LIA's preemptive scope does not extend to state common-law claims, as opposed to state legislation or regulation," Thomas wrote.
"Napier, however, held that the LIA 'occup(ied) the entire field of regulating locomotive equipment' to the exclusion of state regulation. That categorical conclusion admits of no exception for state common-law duties and standards of care."
The decision affirmed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. It had been removed from a state court to Philadelphia federal court.
Dissenting were justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Sotomayor's dissenting opinion said that the plaintiffs' claim for failure to warn was not preempted, though it agreed the defective design claim was.
The federal government and the American Association for Justice were among the groups supporting the plaintiffs' lawsuit.
"Because the right to a legal remedy for wrongful injury is a fundamental right under the Constitution, courts may not preempt such a cause of action and leave injured persons without remedy unless Congress specifically intended that result," the AAJ's amicus brief said.
"The mere silence of Congress in a statute not directed at railroads rather than manufacturers falls short."
Complaints against 50 other companies were dismissed.
NOTE: This blog entry is republished from http://www.asbestoslawblog.com/.