WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A lawyer for the Washington Legal Foundation said the Obama administration "tends to favor the interests of plaintiffs' lawyers who want more opportunities to sue corporations."
Richard Samp made the remarks following the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of a legal theory that would have given asbestos attorneys a new industry to attack with lawsuits.
On Wednesday, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of companies involved with the design and manufacture of locomotives and their parts. The estate of the late George Corson, a welder and machinist for a railroad carrier, had sued Railroad Friction Products Corp. and Viad Corp. in Philadelphia, alleging injury from exposure to asbestos in trains and train parts distributed by the companies.
The decision held that the estate's design-defect and failure-to-warn claims were preempted by the federal Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA). It was in line with one made by the court 85 years ago in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line.
The Obama administration had filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff's position in the case against Railroad Friction, saying that the United States had a vested interest in the scope of railroad laws and the LIA only applies to locomotives in current use.
The railroad case was the second Supreme Court tort case in two days - argued or decided - in which the Obama administration had filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. They also filed an amicus brief in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch (an alient tort statute case), which was argued before the Supreme Court on Feb. 28.
The Washington Legal Foundation, an advocate for free enterprise, filed an amicus brief supporting the defendants in the Railroad Friction case. Other organizations that filed amicus briefs for the defendants included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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Samp said that state laws cannot second-guess federal standards, otherwise, as in the railroad case, when trains travel from state to state they would be subject to different laws.
"A couple of things to keep in mind, the court has been reluctant to say that the federal government can pre-empt state law," Samp said. "But they made this decision in 1926 (Napier) regarding this. The 1926 ruling said the Boiler Inspection Act, which is now the Locomotive Inspection Act, preempts state laws. Congress has made several revisions in the area of railroad safety but they never changed the LIA."
Samp also noted that railroad workers have recourse under the Federal Employer Liability Act, meaning they can sue their railroad employer.
Trial lawyers want to be able to sue the manufacturers.