International Law

Coal Co. Wins Tort Claims Suit

A federal jury in Alabama has sided with a coal company in a civil suit seeking damages for the deaths of three union leaders at its mine in Colombia.

The case is the first to go to trial out of several that seek to hold corporations liable under the Alien Tort Claims Act for abuses in developing countries, the New York Times reports. A 2004 Supreme Court ruling allows foreigners to use the law to sue U.S. companies here for abuses abroad, albeit in limited circumstances, the Washington Post explains.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the Alabama-based Drummond had assisted paramilitary groups with the goal of obtaining the murders.

Law professor Peter Spiro told the Times that the verdict is unlikely to deter similar suits because it does not undermine the legal theory used to bring the cases. Companies such as Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum and Chiquita Brands International are facing similar lawsuits.

The Chiquita suit was filed after Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million U.S. Justice Department fine for making $1.7 million in illegal protection payments to Colombian groups, noted in a prior post.

The ABA Journal wrote about the Occidental case in a July 2005 feature, “Foreign Fight.”

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