Recent Supreme Court Case Makes It Harder For Plaintiffs To Sue For Injuries

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “Can I post about my injury on Social Media?”


It has been a bad summer for personal injury plaintiffs thanks to several recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a few different cases, the Court made clear that it intends to protect corporations at the expense of injured plaintiffs, worrying over potential harm suffered by the giant companies, while ignoring the actual harm suffered by individuals. Unfortunately, a recent decision, Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, continues the same worrying trend.


Supreme-Court-Mooresville-Injury-Attorney-300x225The first case decided earlier this year involved two individuals suing BNSF, the railroad company, over injuries sustained while working for the company. The plaintiffs brought suit in Montana, despite the fact that both were from and worked outside of the state. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the lower courts allowing the case to proceed, deciding that there were insufficient ties to the jurisdiction to allow the plaintiffs to file suit in Montana.


Just recently, the Supreme Court issued yet another important ruling concerning jurisdiction (or the lack thereof). First, let’s start with a little background about jurisdiction. To be able to file suit against someone, it is required that the court first have personal jurisdiction over the parties to the case. To secure this jurisdiction, previous Supreme Court decisions have said the court must have either general or specific jurisdiction. General jurisdiction has been said to exit only if a defendant is in his or her home state, meaning the states where the defendant (if a corporation) is either incorporated or has its principal place of business. For specific jurisdiction to exit, courts previously looked to see if the suit at issue arises out of or relates to the defendant’s contacts with that state.


In the current case, a large group of injured plaintiffs filed suit against Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), a major pharmaceutical company. Eighty-six of the plaintiffs were California residents and several hundred others were from out-of-state. The group filed suit in California. According to the Supreme Court, this represents a problem from a jurisdictional perspective.


For one thing, no general jurisdiction exists here. BMS is incorporated in Delaware and principally operates out of New York and New Jersey. That leaves only specific jurisdiction to justify the suit. Ordinarily, the fact that BMS carries out activities in California, including a national marketing scheme for the drug at issue in the case, Plavix, would be enough. According to the Supreme Court, that it is not enough any longer.


In an 8-1 decision, the Court said that there was no specific jurisdiction in this case. Writing for the majority, Justice Alito held that the hundreds of out-of-state  plaintiffs could not rightfully sue in California because there was no link between their claims and the state court. The plaintiffs aren’t residents of California and didn’t suffer harm in California. Thus, California courts shouldn’t hear their claims.


Justice Sotomayor dissented and did so forcefully, saying that the new rule will force claims like this to be disaggregated unnecessarily, making it impossible to bring nationwide class-action lawsuits in courts other than where defendant corporations are based. It also forces injured plaintiffs to file suit separately, increasing the cost and time spent trying to recover damages. Moreover, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that the core issue to jurisdictional questions is one of fairness and it is impossible to argue that subjecting such a major corporation like BMS to a lawsuit in California is in any way unfair. The Court decided to side with a multi-billion dollar company over injured plaintiffs who must now bring their claims individually rather than banding together.


If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.


About the Author

Matt Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, personal injury and wrongful death claims.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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