Washington, DC—The American Association for Justice (AAJ) today declared that the Bush Administration must end its effort to prohibit railway accident victims from pursuing legal action against railroad companies responsible for their injury or death. The latest proposed federal railroad safety regulations continues an unprecedented assault on state safety standards, directly challenging Congressional intent and jeopardizing public safety and victims’ access to justice.
“Embracing corporate irresponsibility, the Administration is blatantly ignoring the recent law passed by Congress and instead proposing a slap in the face to consumer safety,” said AAJ CEO Jon Haber. “This is yet another cynical effort allowing major corporations to evade accountability in the courts when people are killed and injured by their negligence and wrong doing.”
Despite Congressional action earlier this year to clarify that federal law does not pre-empt state law or causes of action, the FRA has ignored the legislation and instead effectively claimed the power to regulate with the force of law without regard to the will of Congress.
In the preamble to the proposed rule (Docket No. FRA-2006-26175, Notice No. 1) the FRA added language claiming that “[s]ubject to a limited exception for essentially local safety or security hazards, its requirements will establish a uniform Federal safety standard that must be met, and state requirements covering the same subject are displaced, whether those standards are in the form of state statutes, regulations, local ordinances, or other forms of state law, including state common law.”
While in its comments on the proposed regulation the AAJ stated it believes that the language in the preamble has no substantive effect, it must be withdrawn to avoid conflict and possible misinterpretation with the Congressional intent clarifying the issue recently. That legislation stated “that 49 U.S.C. 20106 does not preempt State law causes of action where a party has failed to comply with the Federal standard of care established by a regulation or order issued by the Secretary of Transportation or the Secretary of Homeland Security, its own plan or standard…, or a State law, regulation or order that is not incompatible with 49 U.S.C. 20106(a)(2).”
A copy of AAJ’s letter to the FRA demanding the removal of the pre-emption language is available upon request.