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Torts: Federal Preemption Under Locomotive Inspection Act

Posted by Matt Schmidt | May 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

BNSF Railway v. Seats Inc., 712 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 9 (App. Div. I, May 5, 2015) (J. Cattani)

STATE LAW NEGLIGENCE CLAIM BASED UPON FEDERAL STANDARD NOT PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LOCOMOTIVE INSPECTION ACT

Plaintiff, sued his employer BNSF Railway and Seats Inc. for injury allegedly caused by a defective seat in the locomotive he operated. BNSF cross-claimed against Seats Inc. for indemnity. The trial court granted Seats Inc.'s rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim finding the Locomotive Inspection Act [LIA] preempted plaintiff's and defendant BNSF's claims. BNSF appealed and the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

There is a presumption that federal law will not preempt a state law but the presumption will be overcome where  Congress expresses the intent to preempt state law, implicitly demonstrates an intent to "occupy the field" or when a state law claim is in direct conflict with the federal law.

The LIA provides that "a locomotive . . . and its parts and appurtenances" must be "in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury." 49 U.S.C. §20701(1).  Violation of the statute renders the manufacturer and railway liable for injury as a matter of law.

The court of appeals found that Congress did not expressly preempt state law in enacting the LIA nor did it imply an intent to occupy the field. As such, where the state law negligence claim is based upon a violation of the LIA (negligence per se) it is not in conflict with the federal statute and is not preempted.

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.

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