On June 27, 2023, The Supreme Court of the United States decided a jurisdictional issue in favor of a long-time Norfolk Southern freight-car mechanic. The railroader had been diagnosed with cancer, and brought a suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) claiming that his on-the-job exposures to asbestos and other carcinogens while working in Ohio and Virginia were to blame. He brought suit in Pennsylvania, despite living in Virginia at the time the case was filed.
Norfolk Southern objected to the filing, claiming that Pennsylvania should not have jurisdiction over the case. Jurisdiction is the legal term for a court’s authority to hear a case. The injured worker asserted that Pennsylvania has jurisdiction over any case involving Norfolk Southern, because the railroad registered to do business there. The Court noted that Pennsylvania’s registration statute requires that any company which chooses to register has to consent to allowing the Commonwealth to have authority to hear disputes regarding the corporation.
The Supreme Court narrowly decided that it did not matter that the injured worker did not live in Pennsylvania, that Norfolk Southern was not headquartered there, nor that the cause of action did not accrue there. Norfolk Southern “consented” to jurisdiction by registering to do business in the Commonwealth. The decision made note of the fact that Norfolk Southern does not simply pass through the state, but does significant business there, rendering their registration there a choice.
While this is great news for injured railroad workers, does this mean that anyone can sue any company anywhere? No. Despite many corporate catastrophists’ claims that forum shopping plaintiffs will abound, there are other factors that determine where a claim can be properly pursued. An experienced FELA attorney can assist an injured railroad worker in navigating the incredibly complex legal system. If you are a railroad worker who has been diagnosed with cancer after a career working with hazardous chemicals, contact our office for a consultation.