Union Pacific Conductor Says Toxic Exposures Led to Pancreatic Cancer | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

How liable are rail operators for the life-threatening illnesses their employees develop?

This question is always difficult to answer because each case requires individual consideration. In what looks to be the latest opportunity to explore this issue, 25-year Union Pacific brakeman and conductor Brad Thompson has sued his former employer in Illinois (IL), claiming that decades of excessive exposure to asbestos, diesel fumes and second-hand tobacco smoke caused his pancreatic cancer.

I cannot comment on the merits of Thompson’s claim, except to note that inhaling smoke has been identified as a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer. Further, evidence suggests that workplace exposure to toxic chemicals may place people at greater risk for this hard-to-treat and often fatal disease.

Regulators have long recognized the high incidence of work-related illnesses among railroad employees. Mesothelioma caused by asbestos may be the best-recognized—and most-deadly—of these diseases. It now also appears that long-term exposure to diesel fumes, repeated exposure to low levels of radioactivity in cargoes and inhaling welding fumes have proven harmful to workers.

Working on trains and in rail yards presents some unavoidable risks. However, rail operators such as Union Pacific have legal obligations to protect their employees’ from unnecessary dangers. Workers have protections under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) when companies fail to meet those obligations, and my colleagues and I specialize in FELA claims to ensure workers enjoy those protections.


About the Editors: Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp& Duffan personal injury law firm is based in Virginia (VA), near the NE North Carolina (NC) border. The firm handles car, truck, railroad, medical negligence cases and more. Our lawyers proudly edit the Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono public information service. Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp& Duffan’s lawyers are licensed in VA, NC, SC, WV, DC and KY.