A federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois conducted the first-ever jury trial in an Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) case. On October 12, 2022, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff—and more than 45,000 class members—regarding defendant BNSF Railway’s (“BNSF”) reckless violations of BIPA. See Rogers v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 1:19-cv-03083 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 12, 2022). Plaintiffs’ claims centered on BNSF’s collection of fingerprints to verify their identities and allow access to BNSF’s facilities without obtaining their written consent, as required under BIPA Section 15(b).
After a five-day trial—and only an hour of deliberations—the jury found BNSF not only violated BIPA 46,500 times, but did so intentionally or recklessly under 735 ILCS 14/20(2). The jury’s finding on that issue quintupled plaintiff’s damages award to $5,000 per violation, as opposed to $1,000 per negligent violation. As a result, District Judge Matthew Kennelly entered a $228 million dollar damages award in plaintiffs’ favor following the verdict. BNSF has stated it intends to appeal.
The implications of the verdict loom large. On the plaintiff’s side, counsel will likely increase the already large-scale BIPA filings and push for higher settlement amounts, using the prospect of a successful jury trial as a bargaining chip. Given the stakes, BIPA defendants may be more inclined to seek early resolution once named in a BIPA class action to avoid a bet-the-company litigation at all costs.
Considering the verdict, early compliance efforts by companies implementing biometric technology are even more crucial to avoid BIPA litigation in the first instance. Significantly, companies using any technology that could arguably constitute biometrics—regardless of the sophistication—may be targeted by zealous plaintiff’s attorneys seeking to join the ever-increasing cascade of BIPA class action filings. Biometrics privacy counsel should thus be consulted to address compliance strategies to protect against the catastrophic risks of a BIPA verdict at the earliest possible opportunity.