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Norfolk Jury Returns $5 Million Verdict in Favor of Client Who Passed Away from Asbestos-Related Lung Disease
Our client, a carman, worked at Norfolk Southern’s Lambert’s Point car repair shop for more than a decade. He serviced and changed out asbestos-containing brake shoes at the shop year in and year out breathing in toxic asbestos fibers. After nearly ten years, Norfolk Southern hired abatement contractors to remove asbestos from the car shop. Our client subsequently became very ill and was diagnosed with a deadly lung disease. He died in 2017 due to complications from the disease. After his death, our client’s daughter obtained an autopsy that revealed asbestos was in fact in his lung tissue. The daughter contacted Randy Appleton, one of the firm partners, who accepted the case after reviewing the autopsy. The railroad denied all liability and pointed to our client’s smoking history as the basis for his lung disease. After a six-day trial, a jury in Norfolk ruled in favor of our client and awarded $5 million in damages (with 80 percent contributory negligence).
Yes, to give the briefest and clearest answer.
Any employee of a railroad corporation that engages in interstate commerce has coverage for work-related injuries and occupational illnesses under the law formally known as the Federal Employers Liability Act.
FELA was enacted in 1908 to protect railroad employees who were almost always excluded from the state-based workers’ compensation programs that were just then coming into being. While FELA procedures differ significantly from those used by workers’ comp, the intent is the same. Individuals who get hurt, killed or made sick while they were doing their jobs can seek compensation and damages for medical bills, disability, lost wages and, in the worst cases, wrongful deaths.
The first qualification for coverage under FELA is working for a company that is subject to the rules and regulations created to implement the law. So, again, yes, people who work for a railroad company but not on trains do have FELA rights.
And, of course, office workers face risks for workplace injuries and occupational illnesses. The Society for Human Resource Management, for instance, lists four of the most common physical dangers in office settings as
- Slips, trips and falls;
- Repetitive stress and strain, which are also known as ergonomic injuries;
- Fire and smoke; and
- Poor indoor air quality, ranging from particulates to fungal spores.
Railroad employees who work inside rail yard administration buildings and corporate headquarters can also be exposed to cancer-causing particulates, toxic fumes and infectious agents. The extensive use of asbestos insulation in buildings built before the 1980s and the almost constant idling of diesel-powered locomotives in freight and switching yards pose particular dangers to longtime and retired office staff.
Proving a FELA injury or illness claim is not always easy, though. Doing so requires showing that railroad, through its executives, managers or employees, acted negligently and failed to protect the injured or ill worker. Partnering with an experienced FELA attorney can help a current or retired railroad worker find, organize and present evidence of negligence. Documenting negligence makes a railroad strictly liable for settling a FELA claim or for paying a FELA award granted by a civil trial jury.
A recent published clinical study in Italy has shown one of the most devastating and deadly factors about malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: The risk for contracting the terminal disease is high even many decades after the asbestos exposure ended.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a horrible form of mesothelioma that infests the membranes that surround the organs in the abdomen.
Asbestos exposure is well known to be the major cause of mesothelioma. But this latest study conducted new research that conclusively showed that the specific risk of peritoneal mesothelioma is still very high after many decades have passed from the exposure period.
The study was conducted by Italian scientists abroad and used a group of former textile workers. The group featured 1083 women and 894 men who were exposed heavily to asbestos, even if that exposure was short.
Among the 1977 former workers, 1019 had died. Research concluded that these workers were 30% more likely to die of peritoneal mesothelioma than the public. These workers also have a 33% higher risk of dying from pleural mesothelioma.
Critically, the study found that the risk of lung cancer did decline after 25 years after asbestos exposure. However, the risk of contracting mesothelioma of either type did not drop as time passed.
Researchers determined that asbestos fibers have a quality they call ‘biopersistance,’ which means that the body has a very difficult time ridding itself of them. The irritation and inflammation at the cellular level because of constant exposure to the sharp asbestos fibers is thought to trigger the disease.
This disturbing study on the horrors of mesothelioma should serve as a potent reminder to all workers who think they were exposed to asbestos years ago: You should undergo regular medical examinations by a qualified physician to determine if you have any sign of any asbestos-related disease developing.
Our mesothelioma attorneys in Virginia handle railroad mesothelioma cases mostly, and we know how railroads such as Norfolk Southern, CSX and BNSF Railway were exposing their workers to asbestos daily , when they knew it was dangerous.
We have handled several successful mesothelioma lawsuits in the past against big railroads, and wrote this free guide for workers who have been exposed to asbestos: Understanding Mesothelioma and the Devastating Impact of Asbestos on Railroad Workers.
If you have been exposed, you should review this free guide so that you know what your potential legal options are.
Madison County IL led the US in mesothelioma lawsuits in 2015. This deadly lung and organ lining cancer is caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos fibers, most often in industrial and railroad employment that occurred prior to the 1980s.
The report compiled by the consulting firm KCIC found that Madison County IL accounted for almost 50% of the country’s mesothelioma lawsuits in 2015. Lawyers filed 1012 mesothelioma lawsuits in the county that year.
Many defense attorneys wrongly complain that it is too easy for people to file mesothelioma lawsuits in Madison County, and Illinois generally, which is known as the ‘rocket docket’ in some legal circles. In Illinois, the terminally ill, which includes many who have asbestos cancer, can get a case from filing to trial in only six months. The system has been set up to speed up trials for people who are very sick and need compensation to pay for their injuries, which is entirely fair, others argue. After all, the companies usually knew asbestos exposure could kill workers and many did little to protect them.
Over the years, railroads and other companies have had to pay big verdicts and settlements in Madison County; the largest was US Steel in 2003, where the jury ordered the company to pay $250 million. It later was settled for an undisclosed amount after the verdict in lieu of an appeal.
We are glad that there are states and jurisdictions in the US where it is easier for people terminally ill with mesothelioma to get the compensation they need and deserve. Our Virginia mesothelioma law firm has a long history of supporting the legal rights of railroad workers who have been injured by the deadly ravages of asbestos. Many of these companies knew for decades that asbestos is extremely hazardous to workers, yet they did nothing to protect the people who worked for them.
Our asbestos cancer attorneys fight for the rights of people injured by asbestos, as well as their grieving families when their loved one passes away. We hope that more states will make it easier for litigants to file mesothelioma lawsuits against negligent companies.
A recent case in West Virginia is a good illustration of how many different companies can be sued for exposing a former worker to asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma in some cases.
The lawsuit was filed by Lois June Wells from Middlebourne WV. her late husband Robert Wayne Wells was employed by Weirton Steel in Weirton and also for Miles/Mobay in nearby New Martinsville. One might think that only those two companies would be named in a wrongful death lawsuit but her mesothelioma lawsuit named 103 different companies that were allegedly responsible for his asbestos cancer, which led to his death in July 2015.
The companies named in the suit have been accused of negligence for many reasons. The suit states that the companies knew or should have known of dangers posed by their products and that they did not provide warnings or supply safety equipment. Also, the suit alleges that equipment and supplies were not labeled and warnings were not provided.
Mesothelioma is a terrible form of lung and organ lining cancer that develops many years after the person is exposed to asbestos. Our mesothelioma law firm often represents railroad workers who developed asbestos cancer related to their work on railroads.
It could prove difficult in the West Virginia case for the woman’s legal group to prove more than 100 companies are responsible for her husband’s death, but we will watch that case with interest to see how it unfolds.
Large corporations are notorious for trying to deny that their products or conduct led to asbestos cancer in any of their workers. Many of the railroad companies we have sued tried to downplay for years the risks associated with asbestos exposure. This is not a surprise because companies do not want to spend money to make their workplaces safer.
However, our FELA law firm has been able to show in our mesothelioma lawsuits that the company(ies) usually knew years ago that asbestos exposure can lead to serious health consequences. Once we are able to establish that fact, as well as the fact that the company had asbestos-containing products to which the decedent was exposed, we have won very large personal injury asbestos settlements for our clients.
By Rick Shapiro, Railroad Accident/FELA Attorney
Workers with railroad companies such as Norfolk Southern, CSX, BNSF, Amtrak, etc. have been known to suffer serious lung conditions as a result of exposure to asbestos. The once popular material was embraced by the construction, manufacturing and railroad industries given its cheap price, easy availability and usefulness in absorbing sound and heat. However, asbestos is also a highly toxic fiber which can get lodged in the linings of your lungs and eventually cause deadly conditions like mesothelioma.
Given the well-known danger of asbestos, manufacturers were finally forced by government regulators to severely restrict if not entirely eliminate the use of asbestos in the United States. Back in the 1970s, asbestos usage reached its peak, with more than 800,000 metric tons of the product being used across the country. Thankfully, pressure from the federal government and others forced companies to cut back use so that by 2011, just barely 1,000 metric tons of asbestos were used in the U.S.
Despite the dramatic drop in asbestos usage, there has not been a similar decline in the number of mesothelioma cases. Though many people would expect the number of mesothelioma and other lung disease cases to drop by corresponding amounts, the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis has actually remained constant in the U.S. for decades. According to the American Cancer Society, the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis increased substantially between the 1970s and the 1990s and has remained fairly constant since then. Today, approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year.
Why have the rates remained the same despite the dramatic drops in asbestos usage? For one thing, even though new usage of asbestos has declined dramatically, old asbestos can still lurk in buildings undetected. Because of how prevalent asbestos used to be, there are many structures that could contain asbestos which might inadvertently harm workers who never even knew it was there. The time and expense associated with asbestos cleanup has deterred some people from taking action to remove the harmful substance.
Another reason why mesothelioma rates have not declined is that asbestos exposure can take years if not decades to manifest as mesothelioma. In some cases, even a short-term exposure to asbestos can result in the development of mesothelioma fifty years later.
Given this long lead-time, many people who worked in and around asbestos decades ago are only now being diagnosed with lung disease.