$5 million gross verdict in favor of Norfolk Southern employee who suffered from asbestosis
The railroad worker was employed by Norfolk Southern Railway from 1979 until 1990 and was largely responsible for replacing the asbestos-containing brake shoes on Norfolk Southern trains. After his retirement, he suffered from shortness of breath and was treated by a pulmonary doctor who documented that he may have an asbestos-induced lung disease. Over the next several years, he suffered from gradually worsening shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, and tightness in his chest until his death. Although he smoked cigarettes for decades, a pathologist found asbestos bodies and scarring in his lung tissue which he concluded was asbestosis.
The worker’s estate sued the railroad alleging that Norfolk Southern had failed to provide a safe workplace and failed and failed to warn him of the dangers of his job in violation of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act. Specifically, they argued that Norfolk Southern knew that its brake shoes contained asbestos and failed to warn the worker of the dangers. The railroad argued that there was no significant airborne asbestos involved in brake work on the railroad and blamed the worker’s death on his heavy smoking history, rather than asbestosis. The railroad’s pathology expert testified that during his review of the biopsy tissue, he did not find any asbestos bodies or signs of asbestosis.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $5 million but attributed 20% liability to Norfolk Southern and 80% liability to the decedent due to his cigarette smoking. Therefore, the award was reduced under the FELA to $1 million.