Closing the Governance Gap
Corporations, Globalisation and the Law series
Chapter 5: Tort claims against transnational corporations in the US
Since the Bhopal gas explosion of 4/5 December 1984 a substantial number of tort claims have been brought before the US courts against US parent corporations in respect of the overseas activities of their subsidiaries. Claims may be filed in state courts, or in the federal district courts under the diversity jurisdiction set out in Art. III of the US Constitution. The Bhopal gas explosion resulted in claims being filed against Union Carbide in the Southern District of New York, and since then tort claims have been filed before the same court in respect of oil pollution in the Amazon basin, and in respect of pollution caused by mining operations in Peru, and in various States in respect of personal injuries allegedly sustained by workers on banana plantations who handled the pesticide DBCP. Some human rights claims have also been brought as tort claims in parallel with ATS claims in the district courts or in state courts. However, only a handful have come to trial. A tort claim brought in parallel with an ATS claim was heard in the District Court in California in 2008 where the jury found for the defendant. A tort claim brought before the state court in California in the DBCP litigation initially resulted in an award of damages for the Nicaraguan plaintiffs which was subsequently overturned following findings of fraud on the part of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
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