Train Companies Protected from Asbestos Lawsuits, Supreme Court Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that train manufacturing companies are shielded from liability in asbestos lawsuits, saying that such claims are preempted by federal law. 

The 6-3 decision, handed down on February 29, came in a lawsuit over injuries from asbestos exposure brought by the estate of George Corson, a former welder and machinist.

The defendants, Railroad Friction Products Corp. and Viad Corp., challenged the complaint on the grounds that they should not be held liable for Corson’s injuries due to the federal Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), arguing that if they had complied with the federal law, they could not be sued for defective design and failure to warn. A majority of the justices agreed, stating that the federal law overrode all applicable state laws.

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Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Exposure to asbestos can cause the development of mesothelioma. Lawsuits have been filed nationwide against asbestos manufacturers.


The U.S. high court upheld a ruling made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, noted that an earlier court decision concluded that there were no exceptions allowed for any state laws. Dissenters included justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who said that while defective design lawsuits were preempted, failure to warn claims should not be barred.

The plaintiff was supported by amicus briefs from the federal government and the American Association for Justice. The defendants were supported by various business interests, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Asbestos was widely used in a variety of manufacturing and construction applications throughout the last century, with use peaking in 1973. Most uses of asbestos were banned in the mid-1980s. When inhaled, asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Asbestos litigation is the longest running mass tort in U.S. history, with the first case filed in 1929. Over 600,000 people have filed lawsuits against 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases.


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