Take a look at a map of North Alabama and you can’t miss it. Redstone Arsenal is a huge federal facility covering a large area next to Huntsville. In addition to its huge size, Redstone plays a significant role in the lives of many local residents. It has a major financial and business impact on North Alabama. Because of the significant traffic and movement in and around Redstone each day, it’s not surprising that serious personal injuries occur on this facility just like they do elsewhere.
Two years ago, I tried a case in Madison County where a construction worker fell and suffered a disabling injury while working at a building project on the arsenal. The case was not against the federal government. We claimed that the general contractor was negligent in creating an unsafe work site for the workers on the project. Currently, I’m representing an individual who suffered severe injuries in a car collision on Redstone’s property. Again, this claim is not against the federal government. It is against another driver who ran a stop sign and caused the collision.
If you made a claim against the federal government, you would expect to be in a federal court. If you made a claim based on a specific federal statute, you would expect to be in a federal court. What about those claims based on traditional state common law or statute? What about a typical negligence claim? The incident occurred on federal property but it really does not involve the federal government.
In my prior construction case, we filed the case in state court. Ultimately, we tried the case in state court. Yesterday, the Huntsville Times published an article concerning a 2010 explosion at Redstone Arsenal. Two men died in that explosion. Their families have filed suits in Madison County against private companies involved in the activities surrounding the explosion. Several of the defendants in those claims tried to remove the lawsuits from an Alabama court to a federal court. They argued that Redstone is federal property giving the federal courts exclusive jurisdiction. A federal judge disagreed. The judge recently ruled that the cases can proceed in state court. In her ruling, the federal judge noted that federal courts and state courts share jurisdiction of claims which involve personal injuries that occur on federal lands. Thus, these claims can move forward in state court.
Although not mentioned in the Huntsville Time article, the actual order from the federal judge indicates that a defendant in the explosion case may have not complied with the procedures necessary for removing cases from state courts to federal courts. Based on shared jurisdiction, the defendants may have been able to remove the cases from state to federal court if they had complied with all the technical requirements of federal law. That’s a separate issue. For now, it’s important to remember that a court in Alabama can hear and decide typical personal injury claims that occur on federal property.