FELA Attorney Fights 8 Years for Client’s $11M Wrongful Death Award | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our national FELA lawsuit client was the estate of a retired CSX switchman in Tennessee who died from lung cancer. Although we are based in Virginia, we represent injured and deceased railroad employees throughout the eastern United States.

The switchman worked for CSX from 1962 to 2002, during which time he was regularly exposed to asbestos, diesel exhaust fumes and radiation from enriched uranium and plutonium. He received a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2005 and died in 2009 despite undergoing 43 chemotherapy treatments and 44 trials of radiotherapy.

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Key Legal Strategy

The man and his wife hired our FELA law firm in 2007, and we filed negligence claims against CSX under provision of the Federal Employers Liability Act. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that the freight railroad violated a number of safety laws and standard industry practices designed to reduce employees’ exposures to cancer-causing materials, including radioactive material, asbestos and diesel exhaust fumes.

A Tennessee state circuit court finally heard the case in 2010. The jurors found in favor the deceased switchman and awarded his estate $8.6 million. CSX immediately demanded that the judged declare a mistrial or order a brand-new hearing.

Shockingly, the circuit court judge granted the railroad’s request for a retrial. This happened even though the original hearing had been one of the longest civil jury trials in the history of Knoxville, Tennessee.

A second trial never occurred, however. Two weeks before a new circuit court jury was empaneled, a different judge dismissed the case altogether. Our FELA attorney appealed that decision all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which on July 1, 2015, reinstated the original jury verdict. The unanimous justices also demanded that yet one more jury decide how much more than the initial $8.6 million CSX must pay the deceased switchman’s widow and estate.

Our FELA attorney calculated that interest and breach of duty damages would bring the total owed to his client to between $11 million and $15 million. At no point during the eight-year legal ordeal did CSX produce evidence that it had not acted negligently in exposing its employee to asbestos, radioactivity and diesel fumes. The company’s failure to protect the switchman made it legally responsible for his ultimately fatal lung cancer.

Court and Date: Knox County Circuit Court, Knoxville, Tenn., November 2010

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney, with Sidney Gilreath s co-counsel in Knoxville