Railroad workers often describe their exposures to asbestos, diesel fumes/exhaust, creosote, ballast dust, silica sand, solvents, cleaners and degreasers. However, we often also have potential clients tell us about regular exposure to chemicals leaking from tank cars. Typically, these clients don’t know what chemicals were actually in the tank cars, just that there were warnings on the tank cars and they emitted a terrible smell.
To be successful on a claim against the railroad, we need to prove that the worker’s cancer was caused (in whole or in part) by the railroad’s negligence. Part of that means proving that the railroad worker was exposed with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration to a substance that scientists are in general agreement causes the disease that worker has. So, if the worker can’t identify what was in the tank car, are they out of luck?
Quite simply, no. While we can’t bring a claim against the railroad that a disease is caused by unknown chemicals, the worker is not out of luck. Often times railroad workers focus on leaking tank cars because that exposure was a memorable event. An experienced railroad attorney will ask questions about other particular exposures known to cause the disease that the worker has. What often needs further evaluation are the exposures that happened so often, the worker doesn’t even think to mention them.
For example, a conductor may call because they were diagnosed with bladder cancer. That conductor may want to discuss leaking tank cars, but we may want to ask questions about their exposures to diesel exhaust from the running locomotives, second-hand smoke from coworkers and asbestos exposure on the steam heating pipes. Usually, the exposures to these substances were so frequent, at such a high degree, and for so long, that the worker just accepts it as normal or thinks that the substance couldn’t be dangerous because it was so present at work.