U.S. Supreme Court Discusses Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as It Applies to Personal Injury Cases

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision interpreting the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. In the case, OBB Personenverkehr AG (“OBB”) v. Sachs, the Court determined that the “commercial activity” exception to the Act’s general grant of immunity to foreign governments did not apply to the specific facts presented. As a result, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed.train-1553734

The Facts of OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs

The plaintiff in OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs was a California woman who had purchased a Eurorail pass here in the United States from a U.S. retailer for her plans to travel in Europe. While she was in Austria, however, the woman was seriously injured due to the alleged negligence of OBB, which is wholly owned by the Austrian government. The plaintiff filed suit against OBB in a U.S. federal district court.

In a pretrial motion, OBB cited the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and asked the court to dismiss the case.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act is a U.S. statute that grants foreign governments immunity from lawsuits in most situations. However, there are several exceptions to that general grant of immunity. The specific exception that the plaintiff claimed applied in this case is the “commercial activity” exception, which allows for the waiver of immunity in cases when the lawsuit “is based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state.”

The Lower Courts’ Decisions

The district court hearing the case determined that the Act did not apply and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit. However, on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was reversed. OBB then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Applicability of the “Commercial Activity” Exception

The Supreme Court ultimately determined that the “commercial activity” exception was not applicable under these facts. The Court explained that under the plain language of the statute, in order for the exception to apply, the injury must be based on commercial activity that occurs in the United States.

The Court further elaborated that to meet the exception, the “conduct constituting the gravamen” of a plaintiff’s lawsuit is what must be examined. Here, the Court noted, the only commercial activity that took place in the United States was the sale of the Eurorail pass to the plaintiff. The actual incident and alleged negligence took place in Austria. Thus, the exception did not apply, and the federal district court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

Have You Been Injured While Away from Home?

If you or a loved one has been recently injured while in another state or country, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Even if the accident took place outside the United States, U.S. courts may still have jurisdiction to hear the case and render a legally binding decision. Of course, these cases often present unique issues and are best handled by experienced attorneys. The skilled advocates at Charles B. Roberts & Associates have over 30 years of collective experience bringing cases on behalf of injured Virginians. Whether you were injured in a car crash, a slip-and-fall accident, or any other kind of accident, the dedicated lawyers at Charles B. Roberts & Associates will be happy to speak with you free of charge. Call (703) 798-3039 today to set up your consultation.

See More Blog Posts:

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Charles B. Roberts Settles Death Case for $1,125,000.00, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, May 4, 2014.