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Judges to decide whether companies with US roots can be sued for foreign incidents

Published by Steve Coleman on March 06, 2012

A US Supreme Court decision is pending on whether or not companies operating in the US with subsidiaries in other countries can be on the hook for foreign incidents.

The US' top court is working on a judgement regarding alleged human rights violations committed by Nigerian government troops who say they were acting on Shell's orders to protect installations.
The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, is looking at whether Nigerian villagers can sue the oil company in American courts over the actions they say occurred in Nigeria.

Judges are being asked to decide whether or not the existing law only applies to individuals or can be extended to multi-national corporations.

The original statute allowed US federal courts to hear "any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treat of the US."

In the 1980s, human rights lawyers used it to sue foreign officials for violations occurring in their countries. Since the ‘90's, use of the law has expanded and more than 150 lawsuits have been filed against US and foreign companies doing business around the world.

A US Court of Appeals in New York threw out an earlier, similar ruling, but the current justice department has disagreed and said the lawsuit should be heard.

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