Does Cigarette Smoking Have an Impact on a FELA Claim?

Over the past several decades, there have been multiple studies that have confirmed that the conditions that railroad workers are forced to work in can cause them to develop cancer. One of the main causes of workers’ cancers is their exposure to asbestos, but there are also cancers that develop because of the silica dust and solvents that are present in railroad work environments. In a recent study, diesel exhaust has also been linked to both bladder and lung cancer development in workers who have prolonged exposure to it.

Many railroad employees who have developed railroad-work-related diseases may be able to receive financial compensation under the Federal Employee Liability Act (FELA). FELA was enacted by Congress in 1908 in order to provide protections to railroad workers. Under FELA, railroad workers who are not covered by regular workers’ compensation laws are able to sue companies over injury claims.

For decades prior to FELA and even after it was passed, railroad workers were – and in some cases continue to be – exposed to toxins that caused or contributed to their condition. FELA allows monetary payments for pain and suffering and is decided by a jury based on comparative negligence.

Some railroad workers worry that they may not qualify for FELA because they have a history of smoking cigarettes, however, this will not disqualify a railroad worker from pursuing any compensation they may be entitled to. Railroad companies never warned workers about the dangers of working around asbestos and other dangerous substances. They provided workers no training or protective equipment. The railroad industry knew all along that these substances could cause workers to develop lung and other types of cancers but kept that information secret.

Even more disturbing is that multiple studies have shown that a worker who smokes and has long-term exposure to asbestos has up to a 90 percent risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. The railroad industry’s negligence in not telling workers the potential health risks they were exposing themselves to entitles a railroad worker who is suffering from one of these chronic and terminal illnesses to receive financial compensation for all their damages – even if that worker has a history of smoking.

Injured Railroad Workers Need an Experienced FELA Law Firm

Railroad workers who are suffering from an asbestos-related cancer or other condition due to their exposure to toxins in the workplace need a skilled Virginia FELA attorney to advocate for them. These cases are more complex than personal injury or workers’ compensation claims and require an attorney who is well versed and experienced in FELA. The legal team at Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn has successfully represented many railroad workers and their families, including an $11 million wrongful death award for the estate of a retired railroad worker who died after being exposed to asbestos, radiation, and other toxic chemicals. The victim was also a smoker.



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