Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp.
For much of his life, George Corson was a railroad machinist. After Mr. Corson died of malignant mesothelioma — the only known cause of which is exposure to asbestos, thought to be present in the locomotive boilers and brake shoes he worked with — his widow and estate sued the manufacturers of those products. The manufacturers, however, argued that the plaintiffs’ state-law tort claims were preempted by the federal railroad safety laws.
Public Justice’s amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court explains that, even when federal regulation of a field preempts state legislation, the Court has consistently held that Congress often intends to allow state tort claims to proceed. These claims don’t dictate what a company can and cannot do; they simply provide that if the company harms someone, that person will be compensated. As a result, the Court has required a much stronger showing of congressional intent to preempt these claims — and there is no such intent in the federal railroad safety laws.
The brief was authored by Brent Rosenthal of Rosenthal Pennington LLP in Dallas, with assistance from Public Justice Senior Attorney Leslie Brueckner and Brayton-Thornton Attorney Melanie Hirsch.