Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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U.S. Supreme Court Decision Affects Where You Can File Lawsuits

Posted Saturday, June 17, 2017 by Chris Thayer

Sometimes the procedure matters more than the substance. For example, a lawsuit can be dismissed if the plaintiff doesn’t file it in the proper court. While that same lawsuit could be refiled in a different court, it is less costly and more efficient to get it right the first time around. Plus, there might be statute of limitations issues (the statutory time limit for bringing certain claims) if the plaintiff has to refile his or her claims elsewhere.

But a recent U.S. Supreme Court case made it a little more challenging for plaintiffs filing personal injury lawsuits. The court ruled that a railroad company could not be sued in Montana for business-related injuries that occurred outside of Montana.

The Facts of the Case

The Supreme Court case actually involved two lawsuits. One was filed by a North Dakota resident named Robert Nelson, who claimed that he injured his knee while working for BNSF Railway Company in Washington state. The second was filed by the wife of a former BNSF employee, Kelli Tyrrell, who claimed that her husband died from cancer after being exposed to chemicals during the course of his employment for the railroad. She was appointed the administrator of her husband’s estate in South Dakota.

The lawsuits were filed in Montana state courts. The Montana courts asserted personal jurisdiction over BNSF Railway under a state rule giving courts authority to decide cases involving “persons found” in Montana. (“Personal jurisdiction” refers to the authority that a court has over the particular parties in a lawsuit.) In other words, according to this rule, because BNSF Railway conducts business in Montana, the company can be sued there.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

Not so fast, said the Supreme Court. The court held that Montana’s rule permitting such overarching jurisdiction violates the U.S. Constitution. While BNSF operates railroad lines in 28 states, including Montana, the company is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Texas. Montana cannot subject BNSF to personal jurisdiction in the state solely because the company does some business there, especially since the injuries in these lawsuits were not caused in Montana.

The court’s decision applies to every state, not just Montana. A state cannot assert personal jurisdiction over a party solely because it does business in that state.

What Does This Decision Mean For My Personal Injury Lawsuit?

It is important to understand the concept of personal jurisdiction and the limits of a particular court’s authority over a particular type of lawsuit and particular parties. The concept of personal jurisdiction is that a party must have certain contacts with a particular state in order for its courts to have authority over that party. Plaintiffs can’t just pick random jurisdictions to file lawsuits, or jurisdictions that they think might be more favorable to them. That’s important to keep in mind because plaintiffs who sue in the wrong court can easily have their claims dismissed.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you have been injured by someone else’s negligence. We can help you decide your best course of action, including finding the best jurisdiction for you to file your lawsuit.