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Supreme Court adds maritime and employment cases to next term's docket

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday added two cases, BNSF Railway Company v. Loos and Air and Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries [SCOTUSblog materials], to its docket for next term.

In BNSF Railway Company, the central issue to be decided is whether BNSF's court-ordered payments to Loos for time lost from work is subject to employment taxes under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA). Loos, who had worked for BNSF for 15 years as a brakeman, switchman and conductor, was dismissed from the railway company due to attendance violations that arose out of a workplace injury Loos suffered in 2010. Loos also received an attendance violation for absences he accrued while testifying against BNSF in a retaliatory dismissal case filed by two of his co-workers. Loos alleges that in addition to BNSF being liable for his injuries under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA), the railway is also in violation of Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) for retaliating against him for testifying. The district court granted summary judgement in favor of BNSF on Loo's FRSA claim, but a trial court awarded Loos compensation for emotional distress, pain, lost wages and medical expenses. After the judgment, BNSF moved to offset the lost wages award by the amount Loo's owed in taxes under the RRTA. The district court denied BNSF's motion and the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] affirmed its decision [opinion, PDF].

In Air and Liquid Systems Corp, the court will determine whether products liability defendants can be held liable under maritime law for injuries caused by products they did not make, sell or distribute. In the case at hand, two appellants allege that their deceased husbands, who each served in the US Navy, were exposed to asbestos-containing insulation that was added to mechanical devices after they were made. Among the number of defendants named are several manufacturers that made and shipped their products "bare-metal," meaning that if they manufactured an engine, it would be shipped without any asbestos-containing insulation materials that would be added later. In the absence of precedent from the Supreme Court, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] looked to maritime law [opinion, PDF], which "permits a manufacturer of even a bare-metal product to be held liable for asbestos-related injuries when circumstances indicate the injury was a reasonably foreseeable result of the manufacturer's actions."

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