Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Preemption
  • Date Filed: November 9, 2011
  • Case #: (10-879)
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 620 F.3d 392 (3rd Cir. 2010)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), which regulates the “use” of a locomotive on a railroad line 49 U.S.C. § 20701, preempts the field of state common-law product liability claims by workers injured in railroad maintenance facilities.

George Corson, a retired railroad maintenance worker died from exposure to asbestos insulation that surrounded the locomotive parts on which he repaired. His wife and executor of his estate, petitioners, brought suit in state court against respondents seeking damages Corson’s injuries. Respondents removed to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction and the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of respondents finding that the LIA preempted petitioners’ state law products liability claims. Specifically, the District Court relied on Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co., in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the LIA occupies the field of regulating locomotives and locomotive parts used in interstate commerce. The Third Circuit affirmed explaining that in a field preemption analysis, the scope of federal preemption turns on Congress’ intent. The LIA was enacted to make locomotives safer while in “use” on the rails and so impliedly preempted the field of state-law claims for failure to warn and design defects against manufacturers for parts that cause injury to workers repairing trains in maintenance shops.

On appeal, petitioners argue that the Third Circuit erred in holding that petitioners’ claims are within the scope of the regulated field. They argue that the LIA’s purpose is to ensure the safe operation of locomotives and does not include locomotives that are under repair in maintenance facilities. Further, petitioners argue that respondents were not subject to regulation under the LIA when decedent was exposed to the asbestos.

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