By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a California woman cannot sue Austria's state-owned national railway system in U.S. courts over a 2007 injury she suffered while boarding a train in Innsbruck that led to her legs being amputated.
In the court's first ruling of the term that began in October and ends in June, the nine justices were unanimous in holding that Carol Sachs was barred from filing suit in American courts.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion that the fact that Sachs purchased her ticket online in the United States was not enough to overcome the immunity given to foreign countries and their agents under a U.S. law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Sachs had argued that her lawsuit against the Austrian railway, ÖBB-Personenverkehr AG, could go forward because of an exception in the law that allows people to sue if a foreign country is carrying out commercial activity in the United States.
Roberts dismissed that argument, saying that all of Sachs' claims "turn on the same tragic episode in Austria, allegedly caused by wrongful conduct and dangerous conditions in Austria, which led to injuries suffered in Austria."
She purchased a Eurail pass over the Internet from a Massachusetts-based travel agent and was using that pass in Austria. While boarding the train in Innsbruck, Sachs fell onto the tracks. Her legs were crushed by the train and were later amputated.
Her case was the first argued before the justices when they opened their current term on Oct. 5.
Sachs received backing in the case from an unusual source: hedge fund NML Capital. NML, a holder of Argentine bonds, has turned to U.S. courts seeking repayment in full following Argentina's $100 billion default in 2002.
The Sachs case raises issues of "exceptional importance to sovereign debt enforcement litigation," NML said in court papers.
The case is ÖBB-Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1067.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)