FELA and Asbestos Disease Claims

The Federal Employer’s Act (FELA) was enacted by Congress in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job when the railroad is at least partially negligent in causing the worker’s injuries. FELA is not a workers’ compensation act but is instead fault-based. The injured employee must prove their injury was caused completely or partly by the negligence of a fellow employee, a railroad agent or contractor, a faulty piece of equipment, an unsafe work condition, or an unsafe work practice.

FELA also covers former railroad employees, allowing them to recover damages for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and more for losses related to the injury stated in the claim filed against the railroad. In the event the employee had died because of the injury or condition, recovery can be sought by their survivors. A Virginia FELA lawyer can determine who qualifies as a survivor under the law.

FELA also recognizes comparative negligence. This means that if the worker and the railroad were both negligent in causing the injury, the jury will determine the percentage of negligence of each party, and the worker’s verdict is reduced by the percentage of negligence the jury assigns to him/her.

A railroad worker is not prevented from recovering for injuries resulting from “risks of the job,” i.e., assumption of the risk is not a defense available to a railroad to prevent an employee from recovering damages caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the railroad.

FELA covers personal injuries, conditions/diseases, such as asbestosis, caused by a hazardous work environment, cumulative trauma injuries, and death.

Asbestos Disease Claims Under FELA

To recover under FELA, an employee must prove he/she suffers from a pulmonary (lung) disease (asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer) caused, or contributed to, by exposure to asbestos dust/fibers during employ by the railroad.

Common examples of sources of exposure our Virginia FELA attorneys have seen in the many cases we have handled include:

  • Handling asbestos-containing materials during construction or repair of rail cars and locomotives
  • Installation or repair of insulating materials on heat sources in railroad shops and on railroad cars and equipment

The latency period for these diseases can be up to 20 to 40 years from last exposure, so the symptoms of the lung disease caused by the asbestos exposure may not appear until long after the last exposure to asbestos dust and fibers.

If you suspect you suffer from asbestos-related lung disease, consult with your physician, be prepared to provide a detailed description of your suspect exposure including the materials you suspect were the source of your exposure during your employment by the railroad, the intensity and duration of your exposure to asbestos dust/fibers (how often were you exposed, how long were your exposures, how heavy was the dust, how often, how long did you handle materials that contained asbestos?

Contact a Virginia FELA Lawyer

In many cases that involve the injury, illness, or tragic death of a railroad employee, the railroad may try to offer a quick settlement. The amounts they offer are usually far below the actual amount the victim and their family would recover with the help of an attorney who specializes in FELA claims. Families should never sign or agree to any settlement without first consulting with a Virginia FELA attorney.

At Shapiro. Appleton & Washburn, we have extensive legal experience advocating for railroad workers and their families. If you have suffered injury or health issues caused by your past or present employment with a railroad, or your loved one has been killed in a railroad accident or because of an asbestos-related disease, call our firm today to find out how we can help your family get the legal and financial justice you deserve.



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