Austrian Railway Shielded by U.S. High Court on Rider Suit

The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered legal protections for companies owned by foreign governments, throwing out a lawsuit by a California woman who lost both legs in an Austrian train accident.

Issuing their first opinion of the 2015-16 term, the justices unanimously said Carol Sachs can’t use the U.S. courts to sue over a 2007 accident that occurred in Innsbruck, Austria. Sachs, whose legs were crushed when she fell in front of the train while trying to board, sought to sue OBB Personenverkehr AG, Austria’s national railroad.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said federal law doesn’t permit the suit, even though Sachs bought her ticket from her California home through a Massachusetts travel agent.

“The conduct constituting the gravamen of Sachs’s suit plainly occurred abroad,” Roberts wrote. “All of her claims turn on the same tragic episode in Austria, allegedly caused by wrongful conduct and dangerous conditions in Austria, which led to injuries suffered in Austria.”

The case turned on the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which shields foreign governments from suit but makes an exception for claims “based upon” a country’s commercial activities in the U.S.

A federal appeals court had said the suit fell within that exception and could go forward.

The case is OBB v. Sachs, 13-1067.

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