For almost 30 years, the law firm of Doran and Murphy, PLLC has represented railroad workers who suffer from mesothelioma, a rare cancer involving the lining of the lungs. Almost all cases of mesothelioma are caused by one thing: Asbestos. It is for this reason that mesothelioma is known as a “signature disease.” It is generally accepted that cigarette smoking does not cause mesothelioma.

Railroad workers have an elevated risk of developing mesothelioma because of the prevalence of asbestos in railroad locomotives, roundhouses, railroad repair shops, railroad brake shoes, railroad signal boards and repair facilities. The railroad workers at risk of disease are from all the major crafts: pipefitters, machinists, electricians, laborers, signal workers, carmen, welders, engineers, conductors, brakemen, trackmen, machine operators and bridge and building workers. Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, which is the amount of time between exposure and when the cancer develops. Most medical authorities believe that the latency period for mesothelioma is at least 10 years and can be 50 years or more.

Investigators studying mesothelioma have looked at different industries where asbestos use was common and found elevated rates of mesothelioma. One of the more famous studies involving railroad workers and mesothelioma was done by Dr. Thomas Mancuso and is the subject of another blog found here.

The first mesothelioma cases against the railroads were filed back in the 1980s under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Early on, railroads were very likely to settle the cases. Since that time railroads have increasingly looked for ways to escape liability to employees who suffer from mesothelioma. One of the defenses a railroad is likely to assert is that the rail worker’s mesothelioma must have come from an asbestos exposure that did not occur at the railroad. The railroad lawyers will spend considerable resources investigating (1) whether there was any asbestos insulation in any homes the mesothelioma victim ever lived in, or (2) whether there was any asbestos exposure in any prior jobs (including military service) held by the worker before coming to the railroad.

It is important to remember that the railroad is still liable to a railroad worker even if there was asbestos exposure in old homes or prior jobs. To make a recovery against the railroad, the worker only has to prove that the exposures at the railroad contributed, even in part, to the cancer. In a landmark case on this exact subject, the United States Supreme Court stated that:

“…the FELA does not provide for apportionment of damages between railroad and nonrailroad causes. Section 1 of the Act makes common carrier railroads ‘liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce … for such injury … resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of such carrier.’ 45 U. S. C. § 51. The claimants here suffer from asbestosis (an “injury”), which is linked to their employment with Norfolk and ‘result[ed] in whole or in part from … negligence’ by Norfolk. Norfolk is therefore ‘liable in damages … for such injury.’” (Ayers v. Norfolk & Western, 538 U.S. 135).

This important legal case and others like it mean that a railroad cannot escape liability to a worker suffering from mesothelioma, even if the worker had asbestos exposure in another job, in the military, or in an old home with asbestos insulation. If the worker’s exposure while working with the railroad contributed, even in part, then the railroad is responsible to pay damages to the worker.

If you or a loved one have any questions about mesothelioma, reach out to the experienced lawyers at Doran and Murphy at any time.