THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO RULES IN FAVOR OF RAILROAD WORKERS REPRESENTED BY DORAN AND MURPHY
Doran and Murphy attorney Michael Torcello recently appeared before the Supreme Court of Ohio representing three railroad workers who claimed to have been injured by their railroad exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust and sand dust. The fight in the Supreme Court has been over the Ohio Asbestos Bill. In short, the Ohio legislature several years ago passed this law requiring that anyone bringing a claim for asbestos-related disease meet certain minimum medical requirements. In 2007, a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court specifically applied this law to railroad workers bringing claims under the FELA. Since that time, the attorneys at Doran and Murphy have worked diligently to protect the federal rights of our railroad clients to maintain their asbestos-related lawsuits under the FELA.
In these cases, Jack Riedel, Danny Six and Jack Weldy brought actions under the FELA and the Locomotive Inspection Act claiming that they had developed asbestosis, from their railroad exposure to asbestos and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) from their railroad exposure to diesel exhaust. The trial court dismissed their asbestos-related claims and allowed their diesel exhaust-related claims to be scheduled for trial. The railroad appealed. Ohio’s intermediate Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs and with the trial court. The railroad appealed again to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Doran and Murphy appeared at the Supreme Court on February 16th, arguing that the substantive rights of the three railroad workers under the FELA would be violated if the railroad’s argument was accepted by the Court and that Ohio’s Asbestos Bill could not be applied to the workers’ claims that were not even related to asbestos. The railroad attorneys argued that the cases of the three railroad workers should be dismissed in their entirety.
On May 6, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Riedel, et al. v. Consolidated Rail Corporation et al., Slip Opinion No. 2010-Ohio-1926. The opinion confirms that the trial court was correct in allowing these railroad workers to continue with their cases related to their diesel exhaust exposure. The opinion of the Supreme Court was unanimous. Sensibly, the Court held that the Ohio Asbestos Bill could only apply to asbestos-related claims and not to claims of other exposures, like diesel exhaust, unrelated to asbestos. The Court stated “this provision clearly cannot apply to claims of injury due to exposure to other toxic substances, such as the claims of Riedel of injury due to diesel exhaust.” Riedel, ¶ 7. Further, the Court concluded that “Consolidated Rail’s interpretation . . . [of the statute’s language would be] unreasonable or absurd.” Riedel, at ¶ 10. The Court found that the Asbestos Bill “applies only to asbestos claims [and] . . . that when a tort action includes an asbestos claim that is administratively dismissed, non- asbestos claims can be severed from the asbestos claim and proceed to trial.” Riedel, at ¶ 11.
This decision has far reaching implications for railroad workers that may have been exposed to asbestos, diesel exhaust or sand dust while working in and through the state of Ohio. While the railroad sought dismissal of all occupational exposure claims that included claims for asbestos exposure, now, the rights of rail workers that have worked anywhere in Ohio are protected. Any railroaders that have suffered injury related to these exposures, such as cancer, COPD or asthma, can now continue to enforce their federal rights under the FELA in the state courts of Ohio. Doran and Murphy has long been working to protect the rights of workers, like Jack Riedel, Danny Six and Jack Weldy, who have been exposed to theses things in their jobs while working on the railroad. We are proud to have played a role in vindicating the rights of these railroaders and will continue to work to promote the interests of railroad workers under the FELA.
This argument can be viewed on the Supreme Court of Ohio’s web site at http://www.ohiochannel.org/media_archives/supreme_court/media.cfm?file_id=124347&
The Supreme Court’s entire Opinion can be found on its web site at http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2010/2010-Ohio-1926.pdf