Railroad Workers in Montana – Injured Non-Resident Workers Can Sue State
In Montana, injured rail workers can sue their employer for injuries that occurred in other states, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in late May 2016. In fact, railroad workers don’t even have to be a Montana state resident in order to file a lawsuit for injuries that occurred outside of the state.
Although FELA, the Federal Employer’s Liability Act, was originally enacted to provide certain protections for railroad workers, including the ability to file out-state lawsuits against companies that do business in a specific state, a recent Montana Supreme Court ruling took that support a step further by providing greater legal plasticity for Montana railroad worker residents and non-residents to file injury claims. While some would say that such a measure equates with the practice of forum shopping, where plaintiffs select a location (country, state, county, judge, etc.) they believe the court will rule in their favor, the ruling and the flexibility it affords are currently still in place.
As a result of this Montana Supreme Court ruling, Montana residents and non-resident railroad workers are currently able to sue BNSF Railway for injuries that occurred outside of Montana. The logic argues that if a Montana railroad worker could sue BNSF in the state of Montana for injuries that occurred out of state, then non-residents should be able to do the same.
While the practice of prosecuting and filing out of the state lawsuits is not unique to Montana, it certainly is inconsistent with rulings in most other US states and could be setting a dangerous precedent. Currently, BNSF is arguing that that these practices are a violation of due process and that such lawsuits should be filed only in states where the company is either headquartered or conducts the majority of their business. BNSF is headquartered in Texas, operates in 28 states, brings in 10 percent of its revenue from Montana and employees around 2,000 rail workers in Montana (less than 5% of their total workforce).
Wrongful Death FELA Lawsuit Questions Amtrak Safety Precautions
A wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed by a family of an Amtrak worker. This tragic event took place the morning of April 3, 2016 outside of Chester, Pennsylvania, just north of the Delaware border, and took the lives of two men.
The two Amtrak workers believed the track they were working on was shut down and were operating a back hoe when the accident took place. They were caught unaware when the Amtrak train raced towards them at over 100 MPH. The two men died on the scene.
One of the men killed was a 40 year veteran of Amtrak; his family is seeking damages in this wrongful death FELA lawsuit. The family believes the accident and deaths could have been prevented if appropriate communication and safety procedures had been in place.
The family made a wise decision in contracting a FELA lawyer to help them navigate the legal framework surrounding such an accident. And, hopefully, future safety and communication improvements will be put in place following this lawsuit.
SEPTA Verdict Appealed to Commonwealth Court
In July 2011, a SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) train conductor was involved in an altercation with a passenger on the Wilmington/Newark Line. Following the incident, the plaintiff, Nicole Hooks, filed a FELA lawsuit against her employer, SEPTA, citing that here injuries were caused by gross negligence. Following a jury verdict, Hooks was awarded over $200,000.
After being denied an appeal to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Plea, SEPTA’s legal team then appealed the verdict before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania claiming court errors in determining SEPTA’s negligence. In support of the appeal, the SEPTA lawyers cited Hooks’ own pronouncement of the accident being “unforeseeable and unanticipated” and that the jury verdict was based on hearsay, rather than facts.
As of June 2016, the defendant is still awaiting a response from the Commonwealth Court as to whether the jury verdict will remain or if the appeal will be granted.