Substantial Confidential Settlement in Railroad Lung Cancer Case Involving Asbestos and Diesel Exhaust Fumes | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

We resolved a transportation railroad worker’s lung cancer and diesel exhaust cancer claim arising from his employment with a railroad.

Many railroads are hiding the truth about the railroad work environment (including the crew cabs of diesel engines, and other workplaces laden with asbestos) by insisting on confidentiality clauses in settlements entered with our law firm and many others. The confidentiality clause in the releases typically state that no settlement amount may be revealed and no public report may be made of the particulars of the settlement. Accordingly, we will not be identifying any particulars of this case in order to honor a confidentiality clause. Instead, we will be discussing public information we have developed in numerous railroad injury cases involving mesothelioma and lung cancer that we have handled as Virginia-based Federal Employers Liability Act attorneys.


General Background

Our client worked for a railroad company for more than 35 years, crewing diesel engines and staying in hotels that he believed were insulated with asbestos. Less than 2 years after his retirement, he noticed he was short of breath and having some strange symptoms.

He went to his internist, who referred him to a lung doctor. The pulmonologist did not like what he found and ordered a series of tests.  A bronchoscopy revealed a mass, and biopsies revealed lung cancer.

Our client suspected that exposures to asbestos and, possibly, diesel fumes while working caused his cancer. He contacted us when his former employer refused to settle an occupational illness claim submitted under the provisions of FELA.

Railroads’ Heavy Use of Asbestos Insulating Materials

While asbestos was used as insulating material in all types of environments and buildings, railroads were especially heavy users of the cancer-causing material. For example, nearly every pipe and surface in crew cabs on diesel locomotives were coated with asbestos to reduce heat. Air circulating through the cab raised asbestos fibers, which crew members had no choice but to breathe in.

Individual asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye. This turned locomotive crew cabs into chambers filled with airborne toxic materials, endangering the health of engineers, conductors, and switchmen.

Another health risk came from the fact railroads did not put air conditioning in their locomotives until the 1990s. This cost-saving measure forced crew members to ride with the windows open, bringing large amounts of diesel exhaust into the cab.

Medical Evidence of Asbestos Cancers

Asbestos fibers can lodge in the lower part of the lungs and, years or decades later, cause cancer. In fact, mesothelioma, which primarily strikes the lining of the lungs, can be caused by just one exposure to asbestos. It is hard to imagine a more toxic substance. Even cigarette smoking is linked to lower rates of lung cancer, though smoking is known to have a synergistic effect with asbestos exposure. Since many railroad workers smoked during the 20th century, they faced high odds of developing cancer after working with and around asbestos every day for years on end.

U.S. railroad officials knew that asbestos was toxic and a cause of permanent and potentially lethal lung disease as early as the 1930s. But can a railroad worker like a conductor or engineer who contracts lung cancer without ever knowing they were actually exposed to asbestos at work?

The answer, of course, is yes when competent medical professionals can establish the link with occupational exposures. This is why skilled railroad cancer attorneys work with industrial safety professionals called industrial hygienists who review materials from the railroad workplace, interview the worker and determine whether the railroad followed proper industrial safety practices.

We and other FELA attorneys consistently find that every major railroad — Amtrak, BNSF, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Conrail, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific — and short line ignored and denied the dangers that asbestos posed to employees for decades. The companies’ managers and executives appear to have figured that workers who developed fatal cancers years after they came into contact with asbestos would not be able to prove negligence on the companies’ part.

Medical Evidence of Diesel Exhaust Fumes and Lung Cancer

All major international cancer organizations agree that prolonged exposure to diesel exhaust fumes is linked to lung cancer. Solid evidence that exhaust from diesel engines contains more than 10 well-known carcinogens began appearing in medical journals during the 1980s. Internal company documents show that railroad officials knew by the 1950s that the smoke and heated air billow from diesel-fueled engines endangered employees.

Putting the Pieces Together and Settling a Case

One can debate the timeline, but the fact that carer locomotive engineers, train conductors, and switchmen spent decades breathing cancerous air while their supervisors and managers did little to protect them cannot be denied. Railroads, of course, do continue denying this.

Rail employees who develop work-related lung cancer, colon cancer or mesothelioma need plaintiffs’ lawyers who know how to help them fight their former employers. Our job as railroad cancer attorneys is to put the pieces together by finding and accessing internal railroad documents that show where the asbestos was, when (or if) the railroad removed it and what the railroad knew about the dangers. We also connect our clients with occupational medicine doctors who specialize in diagnosing cancers caused by exposures to toxic substances like asbestos.

Our Virginia-based FELA law firm has been doing this for over 30 years. While we are not at liberty to reveal any particulars of our legal strategy or the settlement in this specific case, we are pleased to be able to report that we secured a significant settlement for the mesothelioma victim.

We have done the same for numerous retired railroad workers who developed job-related cancers. This case result is indicative of what we have accomplished in past cases but should not be interpreted as any particularized settlement that we have entered, nor should it be interpreted as one with any of the specific railroads mentioned in this article.

Court and Date: Confidential

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney