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Public Liability Actions

Under the Price-Anderson Amendments Act, claims for any legal liability arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident, are to be brought as a federal cause of action known as a public liability action or a PLA[i].

The Act defines public liability actions as any suit asserting public liability growing out of exposure to nuclear radiation [ii].  Public liability is defined in the Price-Anderson Act as any legal liability arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident or precautionary evaluation[iii].

The Amendments Act also provides for the removal of original federal jurisdiction over claims for any nuclear incident.  Congress further requires that the substantive rules of decision to be applied by the courts in such cases, should be derived from the law of the state in which the nuclear incident involved occurs, unless such law is inconsistent with the provisions of the Act[iv].

The Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988, which created a federal public liability action, specifies that the federal courts have original jurisdiction over these actions and that public liability actions filed in state courts are subject to removal upon the motion of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the Secretary of Health and Human Services[v].

After the Price-Anderson Amendments Act, no state cause of action based upon public liability exists.  Any conceivable state tort action which might remain available to a plaintiff following the determination that his/her claim could not qualify as a public liability action, could not be one based on any legal liability or any person who may be liable on account of a nuclear incident[vi].

The Price-Anderson Act does not interfere with state tort law until there is a likelihood that damages would exceed the amount of financial responsibility required together with the amount of federal indemnity[vii].  Up to this threshold point, the rights of injured parties are established and defined by state law.

The Act is an example of a complete preemption doctrine which would convert an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim[viii].  The Act is designed to establish a liability fund, with procedures governing claims against the fund, to facilitate the rapid and adequate financial compensation of individuals if there ever were a nuclear accident[ix].

With respect to any public liability action arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident, the U.S. district court in the district where the nuclear incident takes place, or in the case of a nuclear incident taking place outside the U.S., the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, should have original jurisdiction without regard to the citizenship of any party or the amount in controversy[x].

Upon motion of the defendant or of the Commission or the Secretary, as appropriate, any such action pending in any State court, including any such action pending on the date of the enactment of the Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988, or U.S. district court should be removed or transferred to the U.S. district court having venue[xi].

Pursuant to 42 USCS § 2210 (q), no court may award costs of a precautionary evacuation unless such costs constitute a public liability.

[i] Lokos v. Detroit Edison, 67 F. Supp. 2d 740, 741 ( E.D. Mich. 1999).

[ii] 42 USCS § 2014 (hh).

[iii] In re TMI Litigation Cases Consol. II, 940 F.2d 832 (3d Cir. 1991).

[iv] Roberts v. Florida Power & Light Co., 146 F.3d 1305 (11th Cir. Fla. 1998).

[v] In re TMI Litigation Cases Consol. II, 940 F.2d 832 (3d Cir. 1991).

[vi] O’Conner v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 13 F.3d 1090 (7th Cir. Ill. 1994).

[vii] Bennett v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 698 S.W.2d 854 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985).

[viii] Wilcox v. Homestake Mining Co., 401 F. Supp. 2d 1196 (D.N.M. 2005).

[ix] In re Three Mile Island Litigation, 87 F.R.D. 433, 436 (M.D. Pa. 1980).

[x] 42 USCS § 2210 (n) (2).

[xi] Id.

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