Austrian Train Injury Case Has No Legs in US Court
On Monday, October 5th, Californian resident Carol P Sachs tried to sue a European railroad in American court. The woman lost both of her legs in a rail accident in Innsbruck, Austria as she tried to board a moving train. Although the accident clearly took place in Europe, Sachs claims that because she purchased the ticket for the journey over the internet in America, she is within her rights to start court proceedings in the US as well.
Supreme Court Not Impressed
The seeming consensus by the Supreme Court is that the case does not hold enough weight to be tried in the United States. Sachs only purchased her ticket in the United States via a Massachusetts based travel agent. The accident itself happened in Austria. With the only tie to the US being the ticket purchase, the case has little to no weight in the US judicial system.
Justice Elena Kagan queried whether buying a ticket to an opera performance in Vienna via a website in the United States would allow Sachs to sue the website if she slipped on a puddle there. The notion, her tone suggested, is absurd and a waste of the US courts time.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who has in fact published a book on the role of American courts and the global economy, has openly stated that he is unaware of any nation that would allow its courts to be used for lawsuits against companies that are blamed for injuries its citizens have received abroad.
The Legal Question
The legal question in this case is whether the Austrian government owned railroad is entitled to sovereign immunity or not. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act usually protects Foreign States, however the law does make exception for some claims, if a commercial activity has been carried out in the United States, as it had in this case.
The Austrian Railroad’s Lawyers Fight Back
The lawyers representing the Austrian railroad have stated that it would be near impossible for them to warn ticket purchasers about every single type of accident that could occur should they choose to travel by train in their country. The federal government also backed the defendant’s lawyers, urging the judge to avoid drawing US courts into what could lead to US courts making a judgement on what happens in a foreign country – something that could be a quite sensitive matter.
Since the case has come to light, all transport ticket passes now routinely specify where lawsuits must be brought if at all. This has been put in place to prevent another case like this from being tried in a foreign country to where the original accident happened. On the other hand, the ruling in this case could then be applied to other foreign cases in the future in reference to employment agreements and financial transactions.
It will be interesting to see how this case pans out, and whether United States law will be altered based on the outcome.