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Train Accident Cases: When Can You Sue a Railroad?

Generally, when you think about train accidents, you think about high-speed, high-drama events — but not all of them are quite that adrenaline-filled. Take, for example, Carol Sachs of Berkeley, CA. This poor woman was trying to board a train when the doors closed on her. She slipped between the train and the platform and her legs were crushed as the train pulled away. Both of them had to be amputated at the knee.

You can imagine that, like anyone would, she sued the train immediately for failure to provide a safe place to board, failure to warn passengers that the doors were closing, and negligently pulling away when there was a person caught between the train and the tracks. And if it weren't for a technical detail, she almost certainly would have won.

The problem in this case is that this happened to Ms. Sachs in Austria, where the government runs the trains. U.S. law prevents civil suits from being brought against foreign governments or government-run organizations. Sachs had a solid legal argument for the suit: she purchased the ticket for the train in the U.S. before departing for Austria, and foreign governments doing 'commercial business' on U.S. soil are exempt from the ban on suing foreign governments.

Unfortunately for Sachs, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 2nd, 2013, that because the Austrian railroad was merely using the U.S. company that sold the ticket as a business partner and wasn't actively managing the transaction, it wasn't the Austrian government that was doing commercial business. The train accident attorneys of Florida are split about the issue.

On the one hand, many of us believe that Sachs has every right to sue the railroad — hiding your commercial activities by contracting another company to sell your products or services is a transparent dodge. On the other, several train accident lawyers across Florida understand the necessity to keep foreign governments out of our legal system — or rather, keep our legal system out of foreign governments' affairs. As sad as it is for Ms. Sachs, the bigger picture of international relations may have to take precedence over her injury, no matter how horrific.