U.S. Supreme Court: State Law Claims Against Locomotive Manufacturers Are Preempted by Federal Law


In a decision published on February 29, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held that all personal injury and wrongful death claims based on state law causes of action, including defective design and failure to warn, involving locomotives or locomotive components are preempted by federal law. (Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp., No. 10-879 (2012 WL 631857) (February 29, 2012).

The decedent in Kurns worked as a welder and machinist for a railroad carrier from 1947 to 1974, where plaintiffs allege he was exposed to asbestos from locomotives, including locomotive engine valves and locomotive brake shoes. The plaintiffs originally brought the case in Pennsylvania state court, asserting common law claims that the locomotives were defectively designed and failed to adequately warn about the hazards of asbestos in their components. The defendants removed the case to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is handling all federal court cases involving claims of personal injury for exposure to asbestos. The District Court granted summary judgment, which was subsequently affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and now by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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