U.S. top court to hear BNSF Railway out-of-state injury suit appeal

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By Andrew Chung | NEW YORK

NEW YORK The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed
to resolve a dispute that could limit where corporations can be
sued, potentially delivering a blow to plaintiffs’ lawyers
seeking to bring cases in friendly courts.

The justices said they would decide an appeal by Texas-based
BNSF Railway Co of a 2015 Montana Supreme Court
ruling allowing out-of-state residents to sue there over
injuries that occurred anywhere in BNSF’s nationwide network.

Companies and plaintiffs are waging a high-stakes battle
over where lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries should be
filed. Companies typically can be sued in the state where they
are headquartered or incorporated, as well as where they have
significant ties.

The appeal by BNSF, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc
, involves two lawsuits brought under the Federal
Employers’ Liability Act, a U.S. law that allows injured
railroad employees to sue for compensation from their companies.

BNSF fuel truck driver Robert Nelson sued in 2011 over a
slip-and-fall accident in which he injured his knee. Kelli
Tyrrell, the widow of railroad employee Brent Tyrrell, sued in
2014 alleging her husband was exposed to chemicals that caused
him to die of kidney cancer.

Neither BNSF employee lived in Montana and their allegations
did not occur in the state, according to court filings.

BNSF argued that the Montana courts did not have
jurisdiction over the cases. The Montana Supreme Court in May,
however, ruled that state courts there can hear cases against
BNSF without violating due process rights guaranteed in the U.S.
Constitution because the company does business in the state.

In petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, BNSF
argued that the Montana court is violating high court precedent
limiting courts’ jurisdiction.

The case is BNSF Railway Co v. Kelli Tyrrell et al, 16-405,
in the Supreme Court of the United States.



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