A railroad engineer was inspecting his locomotive engine and had just exited the crew cab when there was a sudden explosion coming from the area of the battery box beneath his feet on the railroad engine platform. Smoke and fumes began to billow from beneath his feet on the metal platform and he quickly re-entered the crew cab of the engine to get out of the smoke and fumes. After exiting the engine on the other side, he notified the road foreman of engines of the explosion and smoke and the engine was removed from service while they both watched smoke plumes still pouring out of the side and top of the engine battery area.
After reporting the battery explosion, and completing an injury report, the engineer was able to go about his work duties without problem and in fact did not realize that he suffered any injury. It was about a month later that he suffered bronchitis-type symptoms (hoarseness, coughing, some chest tightness) so he obtained over-the-counter cold remedies before going to his family doctor. The general practice doctor finally asked him after seven weeks if he had been exposed to any smoke, fumes or chemicals. The engineer related the battery explosion to his doctor. The doctor then referred the railroad engineer to an ENT specialist who began conducting a series of tests to determine whether the engineer suffered a chemical inhalation injury or breathing injury. Some of these tests included running a flexible scope down one nostril of a patient to examine the larynx for redness or irritation that may have been caused by a chemical.
Key Legal Strategies:
Through internet research and other similar sources, we were able to obtain material safety data sheets/warning sheets (MSDS) produced by the manufacturer of the locomotive battery. These MSDS/warning sheets showed that sulfuric acid and battery electrolyte can lead to permanent lung/respiratory damage and even death. Not only could airborne sulfuric acid cause permanent respiratory damage, but battery electrolyte also has similar health characteristics.
The railroad in question denied the worker’s claim had anything to do with the battery explosion and pointed out that he had worked for more than two months before suffering any manifested injuries. Litigation commenced and our office began gathering the evidence to prove that there was no other potential cause of our client’s chemical inhalation and breathing injuries besides the locomotive battery explosion. Our client had returned to work after over 9 months of lost earnings, and had continuing shortness of breath and hoarseness especially when working around diesel fumes.
This required obtaining reports and opinions from the ENT, the general practitioner, and a lung specialist called a pulmonologist. We also had to conduct the depositions of the railroad car repair personnel who replaced the battery. We learned that a locomotive battery weighs thousands of pounds and is so heavy that a forklift-type device must be used to pull the heavy locomotive battery out of the side of a locomotive engine. We also learned there were only a few manufacturers of locomotive batteries but we knew the engine number and class of Dash engine.
The railroad defense was that our client simply suffered bronchitis or breathing problems from some other hobby he had. The railroad conducted private investigator surveillance of the plaintiff in his hometown and was trying to show that he must have been exposed to chemicals or fumes in some other side occupation or hobby. However, the plaintiff had no such exposure and the railroad’s defense failed to prove any such alternative explanation.
Last, we conducted the deposition of a chief medical officer with the railroad and asked the medical doctor with the railroad if there was any evidence in the client's entire medical and personnel file of an alternative explanation for our client’s chemical inhalation injuries and he finally concluded that there were none. This last deposition was critical in solidifying fair compensation for our engineer and the case was settled prior to trial.
Richard Shapiro, Attorney
Donald Case, Investigator
Roz Hughes, Paralegal
Meg Cudden, Legal Assistant