Legal Memorandum: Preemption of Negligence Law in MN

Issue: Does federal law preempt Minnesota negligence law when the federal government participates in the installation of railroad crossing gates?

Area of Law: Aviation & Transportation Law, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Negligence; Preemption of a state law by federal statutes
Jurisdiction: Federal, Minnesota
Cited Cases: 159 Minn. 308; 39 F.3d 864; 199 N.W. 3; 880 F.2d 68; 93 F.3d 472
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2000

           Although there is authority in support of the rule that when the federal government participates in installation of warning devices at railroad crossings a plaintiff’s claim that the railroad negligently maintained a crossing is preempted, see, e.g., St. Louis S.W. Ry. v. Malone Freight Lines, 39 F.3d 864, 867 (8th Cir. 1994) (no preemption when railroad fails to use reasonable diligence in implementing upgrade), the law governing claims by plaintiffs injured due to a defective crossing is Minnesota common law.

As a general matter, preemption is not favored.  The supreme court has cautioned that preemption of a state law by federal statutes or regulations is not favored absent persuasive circumstances such as clear Congressional intent or the nature of the regulated field that permits no other conclusion.  Blackburn v. Doubleday Broadcasting Co., 353 N.W.2d 550, 554 (Minn. 1984).  One factor in considering preemption is whether the state law runs counter to or thwarts the federal law.  CSX Transp., Inc. v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658, 667 (1993).  Addressing the very issue raised by the question, the United States Supreme Court reasoned that a state’s scheme of negligence liability complements federal regulations governing installation of warning devices at railroad crossings.  Id. at 668 (holding that federal regulations promulgated under the Federal Railroad Safety Act did not preempt the state’s common law of negligence regarding the railroad’s duty to ensure safety at crossings, including the duty to maintain warning devices).  See Kiemele v. Soo Line R.R., 93 […]

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