Battaglia v. Conrail
RIGHTS OF RAILROAD WORKERS UNDER THE LOCOMOTIVE INSPECTION ACT UPHELD
The Supreme Court of Ohio recently rejected the railroads request to hear two issues important to railroad workers who believe that they may have exposed to harmful substances, like asbestos and diesel exhaust.
Francis Battaglia was employed by Conrail as a brakeman and later an engineer from 1976 to 2007. He brought suit against the railroad claiming that his years of unprotected exposure to diesel exhaust had caused him to suffer from asthma, forcing his retirement from the railroad. The jury found for Mr. Battaglia and the railroad appealed arguing, among other things, that no violation of the Locomotive Inspection Act had been proven by the plaintiff and that a railroad worker must do more than simply prove that the railroad had been slightly negligent in order to recover.
The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff and confirmed that a railroad worker’s injury “caused in any degree, even the smallest, by the negligence of the employer, results in the obligation of the employer to pay damages.” Battaglia, ¶ 40.
Even more importantly for railroad workers claiming to have been injured by their railroad exposure to diesel exhaust, the court reaffirmed that “it is clear that the intent of the [LIA] is to protect occupants of a locomotive cab from exposure to toxic exhaust emissions during normal operating conditions.” Battaglia, ¶ 38. The court concluded that “consequently, [the railroad worker’s] exposure to such exhaust is a violation of a safety regulation.” Battaglia, ¶ 39.
Following this decision, the railroad asked the Supreme Court of Ohio to reverse the appellate court. The Supreme Court has recently refused to hear the case. That means that the law reaffirmed in Battaglia remains the law in Ohio.
This decision reaffirms the decision of another Ohio intermediate appellate court in the case of Hager v. Norfolk Western Railway. In that case, thought to be among the first of its kind in Ohio, Doran and Murphy attorneys persuaded an Ohio jury, then an Ohio appellate court that diesel fumes which entered the cab of an operating locomotive is, in fact, a violation of federal regulations and that the offending railroad is absolutely liable for the resulting injuries.
The entire opinion of the court in Battaglia v. Conrail can be found on the Ohio Supreme Court’s web site at http: //www. supremecourt.ohio.gov/ROD/docs/default.asp.