Earlier in the year, two separate plaintiffs sued BNSF Railroad Co. in Montana for injuries that took place outside of the state. Neither of the plaintiffs lived in Montana, and BNSF is based in Texas. The Montana Supreme Court had ruled that the lawsuit was allowable in the state regardless, citing both the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and state law in Montana. But the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, voting 8-1 to reverse the lower court’s ruling.
What does this mean for injured workers?
Going forward, and not just for railroad workers but for those in all industries, plaintiffs will only be able to sue in a jurisdiction where the injury took place, regardless of how friendly or unfriendly that state’s laws may be toward their situation. The other option available to injured workers is to sue in the jurisdiction where the company makes its home. In general, that can mean two things:
- The state where the business incorporated
- The state where most of the company’s business takes place
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is a move that limits railroad and other business’s liability according to geography. This can work against those injured in the workplace, as businesses may choose to incorporate or operate primarily in states that have a history of favoring business interests over those of injured workers. The ruling also sets up a future where injured workers will have a harder time suing multinational corporations that are headquartered in other countries.
The ruling does not prevent workers from suing for injuries they believe were caused in part by employer negligence. But it does make it more difficult to do so. If you or a loved one is a railroad worker and has been injured on the job, make sure to reach out to learn your options for compensation.