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Locomotive act at issue in Supreme Court asbestos case

Next month, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in a case regarding the locomotive industry and railroad employees. Specifically, the suit aims to determine whether the federal Locomotive Inspection Act preempts state law claims against companies that are involved with the design and manufacture of locomotives and locomotive parts.

The lawsuit was filed by a representative of the estate of a man who was fatally exposed to asbestos on locomotives. Two private companies, Railroad Friction Products Corp. and Viad Corp. are the suit's two remaining defendants, after 50 additional defendants were dismissed by lower courts.

If the Supreme Court finds in favor of the plaintiff, victims who have been negligently exposed to asbestos during their railroad employment will be able to name private companies that design and manufacture asbestos-containing products as defendants in personal injury lawsuits. Currently, the Locomotive Inspection Act preempts any state law standard of care regarding the requirements for locomotives and parts, reducing the potential causes of action in many otherwise valid asbestos lawsuits.

According to the American Association for Justice, which filed a brief in support of the plaintiff in the case, the high court's decision should be based upon the intent of Congress in creating the locomotive act. "Because the right to a legal remedy for wrongful injury is a fundamental right under the Constitution," the brief argued, "courts may not preempt such a cause of action and leave injured persons without remedy unless Congress specifically intended that result."

Source: Legal Newsline, "Feds side with plaintiffs attorneys in preemption dispute," John O'Brien, Oct. 12, 2011

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