You’ve been diagnosed with cancer. You’ve been to your doctor. You think your cancer could be related to your work on the railroad, and you’re ready to talk to a lawyer. The first thing you want to know from your lawyer is, “what kind of evidence does it take to prove my case?”.  The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) protects railroad workers that have been injured or get sick as a result of their work on the railroad. This law allows recovery even if the railroad’s negligence was only partly to blame for the injury or disease. So, if you were exposed to cancer-causing substances, like asbestos, diesel exhaust, silica dust, or solvents, and you develop cancer, those exposures may have caused your cancer. But how do you prove it?

Get Help With FELA Claims

That’s where experienced FELA counsel comes in. Your lawyer has to show two things: 1) that you were exposed to cancer-causing substances at work; and 2) that the exposure was a cause, even a partial cause of your cancer. The first element is usually straight forward. Your memory of the exposures you had on the railroad is one of the best sources of this information. However, if you don’t remember all of the details of your exposures, your co-workers often do. An experienced FELA attorney can help find co-workers with whom you may have lost touch. After you, the people who worked with you or doing the same job as you are the best source of information when it comes to exposures.

Proving Railroad Hazards Link to Cancer

The second thing your lawyer is going to have to prove is more difficult. They are going to have to demonstrate that your railroad exposures to cancer-causing substances was a cause – even in part – of your cancer. This requires expert testimony. In court, not everyone is allowed to give an opinion to the jury. Only witnesses that the court deems to have specialized knowledge and information may offer their opinions as evidence. And even then, these experts may offer their opinions only if the basis for those opinions are generally accepted by the scientific community. This is particularly important in FELA cancer cases because of the complex medical issue of whether exposures to asbestos, diesel, or other dangerous chemicals caused or contributed to the cancer.

Can Expert Testimony Be Heard in Court?

Recently, two important FELA cancer cases addressed whether expert testimony can be heard by a jury. First, in Delaware, a railroad worker sued BNSF railways, alleging that he contracted bladder cancer from diesel exposure on the job. The worker’s experts relied on medical studies from the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC). The court rejected the testimony because the expert did not go through the scientific steps to show that the worker’s exposures had caused the cancer.

In the second case, from Nebraska, a former track worker sued Union Pacific after being diagnosed with leukemia. Union Pacific claimed there was insufficient evidence that the worker’s cancer was caused by his exposures at the railroad. The worker’s experts disagreed and believed that his decades of exposure to diesel exhaust and benzene without protective equipment, led him to contract leukemia. The court sided with the worker, finding that it was up to the jury to decide whose evidence was to be believed.

How a Railroad Injury Attorney Could Help

What do these cases mean for you? These cases mean that a railroad worker must present solid scientific evidence for the case to get to a jury. This includes evidence about your exposures, as well as opinions from expert witnesses familiar with railroad work. The evidence must be presented in a way that the court will understand and respect. The best way to do this is with an experienced FELA attorney. An expert’s opinion is only as good as the information that it relies on. The more specific information that you and your co-workers can provide about your workplace exposures, the better the chances an expert’s testimony will be allowed. Talk to your doctors about the exposures that you encountered on the railroad so that your medical records will contain as much information as possible about those exposures. Then talk to an experienced attorney to learn about what it takes to prove your FELA cancer case.