Following a week-long trial, a jury in Illinois awarded a plaintiff class of truck drivers a $228 million verdict against BNSF Railways for violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”). The large verdict, arising from the first case to go to trial under the 2008 law, highlights the potential impact of class actions brought under this statute.
The case, Rogers v. BNSF Railway Company, 1:19-cv-03083 (N.D. Illinois), was brought by a class of tens of thousands of truck drivers who serviced BNSF’s rail yards in Illinois. The drivers claimed that they had been required to submit to having their fingerprints scanned for identity verification purposes, but never received written notice of the collection and storage of this biometric information and never signed a written release, in violation of BIPA. In response, BNSF argued that any collection of fingerprints was conducted by an independent contractor, and therefore BNSF was not responsible for the way this third party collected the biometric information. However, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, and further held that each driver fingerprinted constituted a distinct violation of BIPA. The statute provides for statutory damages of $1000 for a negligent violation of the Act, and $5000 for intentional or reckless violations. Ultimately, the jury’s verdict resulted in a $228 million judgment.
The verdict against BNSF highlights the need for businesses to be attentive to the potential disparate data privacy obligations imposed by different states, and the risk of substantial class action damages because of private rights of action created by these laws.