The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in early December that an American woman injured in an Austrian train accident cannot sue the railroad in U.S. courts merely because she purchased her ticket online in the United States. The decision is the latest in a series of rulings in which the high court has limited the use of U.S. courts as forums for adjudicating wrongs that took place primarily outside the country. The justices determined that the railway has sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which governs jurisdiction against foreign sovereign nations. Since the railway was an Austrian national railway, it fell within the protections of FSIA.
An exception to the sovereign immunity provided by FSIA is if an American citizen brings a suit against a foreign nation or entity that is based upon commercial activity that the foreign nation directly or indirectly conducts in the U.S. Carol Sachs, the Plaintiff, was a resident of Berkeley, Calif., who suffered catastrophic injuries when attempting to board a moving train at a station in Innsbruck, Austria, in April 2007. Those injuries ultimately necessitated the amputation of both her legs above the knee. The U.S. Supreme Court held in a 1993 decision that in order to meet the FSIA’s commercial exception the domestic activity would have to form the “gravamen of the complaint” and that “those elements of a claim” would, if proven, entitle a plaintiff to relief. The high court held that Ms. Sach’s claim was not based upon her purchase of the ticket, but on her injury; therefore, her claim did not meet the commercial activity exception.
This trend by the Supreme Court is not a good one. This is only the latest of several U.S. Supreme Court cases unnecessarily restricting the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. It makes sense that if foreign companies profit from business they conduct within the U.S., they should be subject to the courts in this country when that company causes injury to a U.S. citizen. Instead, many victims like Ms. Sachs are left with no remedy and foreign entities are granted total immunity for wrongful acts. That’s simply wrong and the high court should recognize it.
Sources: Law 360 and The National Law Journal
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