Alooming Supreme Court decision could end up making it easier for the railroad giant whose train derailed in Ohio this month to block lawsuits, including from victims of the disaster.
In the case against Norfolk Southern, the Biden administration is siding with the railroad in its conflict with a cancer-stricken former railworker. A high court ruling for Norfolk Southern could create a national precedent limiting where workers and consumers can bring cases against corporations.
The lawsuit in question, filed initially in a Pennsylvania county court in 2017, deals with a state law that permits plaintiffs to file suit against any corporation registered to do business there, even if the actions that gave rise to the case occurred elsewhere.
In its fight against the lawsuit, Norfolk Southern is asking the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court ruling, overturn Pennsylvania’s law, and restrict where corporations can be sued, upending centuries of precedent.
Oral arguments in the case were held last fall, and a ruling is expected from the Supreme Court in the coming months.
If the court rules in favor of Norfolk Southern, it could overturn plaintiff-friendly laws on the books in states including Pennsylvania, New York, and Georgia that give workers and consumers more leeway to choose where they take corporations to court — an advantage national corporations already enjoy, as they often require customers and employees to agree to file litigation in specific locales whose laws make it harder to hold companies accountable.
Limiting lawsuits is exactly what the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the industry’s primary lobbying group, wants. The organization filed a brief on the side of Norfolk Southern in the case, arguing that a ruling in favor of the plaintiff would open up railroads to more litigation.
It is also apparently what the Biden administration wants — the Justice Department filed its own brief in favor of Norfolk Southern.