Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that discussed the application of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (the “Act”) to personal injury cases brought against foreign governments. According to the Court’s decision, the “commercial activity” exception to the Act is limited to cases where the activity which constitutes the “gravamen” of the defendant’s allegedly negligent conduct is “based upon” commercial activity. More tenuous connections with commercial activity will not suffice.
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
The Act is a U.S. statute that grants immunity to foreign governments in most situations, including those arising out of personal injury accidents. One exception to the Act’s grant of immunity is where the case is “based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by [a] foreign state.”
OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs
In the case, OBB Personenverkehr AG (“OBB”) v. Sachs, the plaintiff was injured in Austria as she was boarding a train. The company that operated the railway, OBB, was wholly owned by the Austrian government. Prior to leaving for Austria, the plaintiff purchased a “Eurorail” pass online from a U.S.-based travel agent. After sustaining serious injury from the incident, the woman filed a lawsuit against OBB in federal district court.