The Complexities of Bringing Personal Injury Claims Against International Corporations in Tennessee

If you are injured by a faulty product or service offered by a corporation, you may be able to bring personal injury claims or product liability claims in Tennessee for the harm that you experience. When a corporation or company is local, this can be as simple as filing a complaint in your local state court. If a company is national, with offices across the country, you may be required to work a bit harder and file a claim in federal court. But what if the corporation that makes a product is international? A recent case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over federal claims in Tennessee, recently considered whether a plaintiff could bring negligence claims against a manufacturer based in Argentina that raised the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as a defense against a lawsuit.

In Rote v. Direccion General de Fabricaciones Miltares, Mr. Rote was injured after loading a gun with defective ammunition that exploded before the gun was in a secure position. The ammunition was manufactured by Direccion General de Fabricaciones Miltares (DGFM), an Argentinian corporation. Mr. Rote’s hand was severely harmed in the accident.

Mr. Rote filed a lawsuit in federal court, asserting personal injury and product liability claims against DGFM.  DGFM moved to dismiss, arguing that since it was an instrumentality of Argentina, it was immune from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The district court denied the motion, and DGFM appealed.

On appeal, DGFM argued that the FSIA should be invoked to protect it from Mr. Rote’s lawsuit. The FSIA protects foreign countries and their instrumentalities from lawsuits in United States courts.  However, certain exceptions may be invoked to remove such immunity when appropriate. Here, Mr. Rote argued that a commercial activity exception applied. Under this exception, lawsuits are allowed when they are based on an act outside the United States that occurs in connection with commercial activity and causes a direct effect in the United States.  According to Mr. Rote, DGFM’s design and manufacture of ammunition in Argentina was a commercial activity that caused a direct effect on him in the United States.

In response, DGFM argued that the design and manufacture of ammunition was not a “commercial activity” within the meaning of the FSIA. Under the FSIA, commercial activity must be activity in which private individuals engage, and not a state type of activity. DGFM argued that ammunition was essentially created for the purpose of war, but sometimes it ended up in the hands of private individuals like Mr. Rote. Unlike other commercial activities, like manufacturing cars, the product DGFM manufactured was not necessarily created for civilian consumption.

The court, however, determined that the design and manufacture of a product was the type of activity in which private individuals engage because this approach had been widely adopted by other courts. The court determined that there was nothing “sovereign” about DGFM’s actions, since it was not engaged in a state function, such as producing currency or issuing regulations. Moreover, the focus of the inquiry, according to the court, was on the nature of the act, not the purpose. Thus, whether the items produced were meant for private purchasers or not, the act of manufacturing the items was a private commercial act, and the FSIA did not apply.

This case carves out a relatively broad exception for allowing personal injury claims against foreign manufacturers of products. Additionally, it is important to remember that the FSIA defense applies only to foreign corporations or entities that have legitimate connections to a foreign government and can thus be considered “instrumentalities.”  For all other private corporations, the FSIA does not apply, and personal injury claims may be more easily brought, although jurisdictional issues are still likely to arise.

Dealing with personal injury claims against companies can be very complicated, due to questions about how and where to correctly bring a lawsuit.  This is particularly true when dealing with national or international corporations.  If you believe you may have a claim against a larger corporation, personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can assist you in evaluating where to file your claim and which jurisdictional issues may be raised as defenses. For more information on seeking redress and compensation for your injuries, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Managing Parallel Criminal and Civil Proceedings for Personal Injury Claims, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 24, 2016

Pushing the Limits of Premise Liability and Gun Safety- SB 1736, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 3, 2016

Personal Injury Claims Resulting From Home Construction Defects – Who is Liable?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 18, 2015