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Personal Injury Lawsuits May Have Just Become Even More Complicated

When a person is injured due to another’s negligence, he or she may choose to file a personal injury claim to recover damages. But what if the injury occurred out of the state in which the victim lives? If I live in Massachusetts, my injury occurred in Oregon, and the company responsible for my injury is headquartered in California, where do I file the lawsuit? The answer may have just gotten a bit more complicated.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that a railroad company based in Texas couldn’t be sued in Montana for injuries sustained in a third location. This decision will likely impact future injury cases, nationwide. A Boston injury lawyer can help you determine how to recover damages if you’ve been injured by another’s negligence.

Two unrelated injury lawsuits were brought against the BNSF Railway Company; the first by Robert Nelson, a former truck driver for the company and resident of North Dakota who claims that he was injured in a work-related slip and fall accident, and the second by Kelli Tyrrel, a resident of South Dakota who claims that the company is responsible for her late husband’s fatal kidney cancer. Nelson was injured in Washington State, and Tyrrel’s husband was allegedly exposed to carcinogenic substances in Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

Despite the company’s location in Texas, and the injuries occurring in four other states, both plaintiffs sued in Montana, where nobody lived, worked, or was injured. This is because Montana is considered to be a friendlier venue for plaintiffs. The lawsuits alleged that filing in Montana was appropriate because BNSF conducts business in the state frequently, employing thousands of Montana residents and investing more than $400 million in the state over a four-year period. But the Supreme Court didn’t agree.

Doing Business In-State is Not Enough

The Supreme Court ruled that to exercise jurisdiction over a company, simply doing business in-state is not enough. Specifically, the ruling stated that the circumstances of the two BNSF lawsuits did “not suffice to permit the assertion of general jurisdiction over claims like Nelson’s and Tyrrell’s that are unrelated to any activity occurring in Montana.” Basically, this means that in order for state courts to hear injury claims, the companies must be based in the state, or the injuries must have occurred there.

The Supreme Court’s ruling was not unanimous. Justice Sonia Sotomayor believes the ruling will benefit large multistate and multinational corporations and cause further harm to the already-injured victims. “It is individual plaintiffs,” wrote Sotomayor, “harmed by the actions of a far-flung foreign corporation, who will bear the brunt of the majority’s approach and be forced to sue in distant jurisdictions with which they have no contacts or connection.”

What are “Minimum Contacts”?

If you have been injured, you must file your personal injury lawsuit in a court that has jurisdiction over the claim. In addition, the state in which you’re filing the lawsuit must have jurisdiction over the person, business or entity responsible for your injuries. Suing where the injury occurred is the most straightforward way of ensuring proper jurisdiction, but this may not be the easiest option for you, especially if your injury occurred far from home. If the person or entity responsible for your injuries has minimum contacts in your home state, you may be able to file the lawsuit where you live. To pass the “minimum contacts” test, the person or entity should meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • A company that conducts business in your state.
  • A person who has a home in your state.
  • A company or person who is party to a contract that was formed in your state.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is likely to make injury claims more complicated. A MA injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to the negligence of a large corporation, especially if the injury occurred out of state.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Personal Injury Law Firm Serving All of MA

If you have been injured, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of accident and injury victims for more than 50 years, and we have an impressive track record of obtaining compensation for clients. Our experienced attorneys will analyze the details of your case to determine the best legal strategy, and we’ll be by your side throughout the entire process. If you have been harmed by another’s negligence, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.