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3rd Circuit Rules Some Asbestos Cases Are Pre-Empted
Shannon P. Duffy
The Legal Intelligencer
September 17, 2010
Railroad workers cannot pursue state law-based personal injury claims stemming from occupational exposure to asbestos because such claims are pre-empted by the federal Locomotive Inspection Act, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
The 3rd Circuit’s ruling could create something of a legal conundrum, however, because the court explicitly rejected a contrary holding by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that has been on the books for three decades.
As a result, trial judges in the federal courts will now be bound by the 3rd Circuit’s decision in Kurns v. A.W. Chesterton Inc., while trial judges in the Pennsylvania state courts will continue to be bound by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel in Kurns, U.S. Circuit Judge Michael A. Chagares found that the “express purpose” of the Federal Railroad Safety Act was “to maintain, not decrease, federal uniform regulation of the railroad industry.”
As a result, Chagares said, “we reject the rationale of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s Norfolk & Western opinion” that the FRSA narrowed the scope of the LIA’s pre-emption of state laws and regulations regarding locomotive equipment.