Railroad locomotive engine explosions, whether involving engine batteries or other engine parts, can cause permanent breathing disorders or chemical inhalation injuries. A quick review of the Internet shows that there is not much information on this topic so I decided to write this article for railroad workers or bystanders that may suffer such an injury and be looking for information.
The federal Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA) and the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) protects railroad workers against all kinds of significant maintenance defects or malfunctions on locomotive engines, and this certainly includes any type of engine explosion or sudden release of smoke, fire, or miscellaneous fumes that leads to injury in a railroad worker, whether working for CSX, NS, Amtrak, Conrail or any other railroad. Most railroad workers are familiar with the Locomotive Inspection Act duties that are required relating to inspecting and assuring that railroad locomotive engines are properly operating. However, most railroad workers do not realize that there are many Locomotive Inspection Act laws and specific regulations governing almost every component and part of a locomotive engine.
In general, any condition on an engine that can endanger a railroad worker or cause personal injury may be a violation of the general requirements of the Locomotive Inspection Act itself. Then, there are many regulations that govern specific parts of an engine such as brakes, speed control, hand holds and ladders, and virtually every part of a locomotive engine on the railroad. A railroad worker generally does not need to prove that a specific defect caused the explosion, plume of smoke, or release of fumes either. The fact of this condition, coupled with an injury that a doctor links to the malfunction or release of fumes, is enough to make a railroad employer liable to a worker under the FELA and under the Locomotive Inspection Act. These same regulations may also be applicable to a claim against a railroad for persons/bystanders so injured.
Here is a list of the types of things that can happen that may constitute a Locomotive Inspection Act violation leading to a breathing/lung disorder injury, or a chemical/toxic inhalation injury or a general personal injury:
● Locomotive engine battery explosion or sudden release of fumes or smoke;
● Malfunction causing billowing smoke and fumes from engine;
● Collision or derailment causing sudden release of fumes, smoke, or fire;
● Collision between engine or train and tractor-trailer or truck hung on tracks leading to fumes and smoke;
● Sudden exposure to fumes, smoke at a side track or industrial area the railroad calls on;
● Slip, trip or fall on locomotive engine caused by oil, fuel, or some type of improper slippery substance;
In one recent case I handled, an engineer was conducting inspection duties under the Locomotive Inspection Act, when there was a sudden explosion coming from the area of the locomotive engine battery box beneath the platform or walkway of the engine. The engineer's exposure to a sudden plume of fumes and smoke was only a few seconds and he immediately reentered the crew cab door, to get out of the smoke and fumes, and exited through the other door of the locomotive engine. The engineer immediately reported the explosion, and the locomotive engine was removed from service. Another engine was obtained and he carried on with his duties after reporting the battery explosion. The railroad later replaced the massive engine battery at a railroad shop.
The railroad engineer did not believe he suffered any injury at the time this incident occurred but within several weeks he noticed that he had a cough and general bronchitis-like symptoms. He went to a family doctor and then didn't go back for about seven or eight weeks after the battery explosion when his general practice doctor finally asked him if he had been exposed to any chemicals or fumes that may have caused him to have the coughing, the hoarseness, or other strange symptoms he was suffering. He explained about the locomotive battery explosion and the doctor then referred him to a specialist called an ENT. ENT's treat ear, nose & throat conditions, and this includes traumatic and chemical injuries that may lead to raw and scratchy throat, hoarseness and bronchitis-like symptoms caused by toxic chemical exposures. These doctors can run a fiber optic larynx scope through one of the nostrils and examine the larynx for evidence of chemical inhalation exposure shown by nodules or other abnormalities in the larynx. Some toxic fume injuries may cause lung disorders, and these often require a pulmonary/pulmonologist's attention as well. In my particular client's case this damage was shown and the ENT concluded that my client suffered a chemical inhalation injury when he was exposed to the locomotive battery fumes and smoke.
When an experienced railroad injury attorney needs to look into a situation like this, an attorney must obtain what are called the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that describe any of the hazardous substances or chemicals that may have been involved in an explosion or exposure to fumes or smoke at the railroad. The railroad is required under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations to keep a written copy (or computer copy) of any warning sheets on hazardous substances or chemicals that it uses in the railroad workplace. Every major company must produce these MSDS warning sheets and provide them to companies that buy or use their products and railroads are no different than any other company in regards to the duty to maintain warning sheets on hazardous substances or chemicals in the workplace.
A review of a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) pertaining to railroad locomotive engines reveals that most if not all locomotive batteries have dangerous sulfuric acid and battery electrolyte hazardous substances that can be released into the air and can cause serious respiratory and other health effects or even death. It was sulfuric acid and a battery electrolyte that likely caused chemical inhalation injury to our prior client. In this particular case, despite the fact that the client had not obtained a clear medical diagnosis for eight weeks after the battery explosion, we were able to gather the evidence from various medical professionals/doctors and convince the railroad employer that the chemical inhalation injury was caused by the Locomotive Inspection Act violation/battery explosion that had been reported, despite the delayed manifestation of the injury/disorder.
This case was not an easy case, and took in excess of 1-1/2 years of litigation in order to obtain a fair settlement for the railroad engineer who suffered the chemical inhalation injury as a result of the battery explosion. And, we were fairly comfortable in being able to prove the Locomotive Inspection Act violation (a federal statutory and regulatory violation by the railroad) after we conducted the deposition of the car repair workers who actually removed the locomotive battery from the specific engine that had the explosion. We obtained the battery repair replacement records that form a part of the Locomotive Inspection Act papers that the railroad must maintain under federal Railroad Administration Act requirements. We conducted the deposition of the carman and other supervisors to verify the Locomotive Inspection Act violation in that particular case.
Chemical inhalation injuries and lung/breathing disorder injuries caused by toxic exposure to an explosion, fumes or smoke, can be challenged FELA/railroad injury/disease cases. A railroad injury attorney must carefully gather the evidence, work with doctors and other professionals such as a toxicologist, to prove that the injuries were a result of the railroad accident, derailment, crash or collision.