Lung Cancer Death Results in $8.6 Million Jury Verdict for Estate of Retired Railroad Worker | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our national railroad occupational illness case client had lived in Tennessee and worked as a brakeman/switchman for more than 40 years for CSX Transportation and one of the freight railroads it acquired. Shortly after retiring, the man was diagnosed with lung cancer, which he and his doctors attributed to decades of on-the-job exposures to asbestos, diesel fumes and radiation.

The retired railroad employee died following a 5-year battle with cancer, and his widow hired our Virginia-based law firm to help with the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) aspects of her wrongful death lawsuit.

A two-week jury trial in Knoxville, TN, ended with a $8.6 million award for the deceased railroad worker’s estate and family. CSX, also acting on behalf of Louisville & Nashville Railroad, immediately appealed.

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Key Legal Strategy

After first reviewing the wrongful death claims submitted under FELA, CSX offered a settlement of $250,000. The railroad argued that the its former employee smoking habit did more to cause his fatal lunge cancer than anything he experienced at work. The company further stated that no evidence existed to show that the deceased brakeman/switchman came into contact with asbestos while working, and that no one could document the doses of radiation he received or the amount of diesel fumes he inhaled.

Our railroad occupational illness attorney presented testimony from 16 witnesses who countered all of CSX’s arguments. This support for the plaintiff came from the oncologist who treated him, a cancer specialist, an epidemiologist, a nuclear physicist, industrial hygienists and several former co-workers and managers.

The company’s appeal of the jury award in Winston Payne Estate v. CSXT went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court. In late June 2015, the justices affirmed the jury verdict but ordered a new trial to reconsider how much the railroad corporation owed in compensation for exposing its employee to life-threatening amounts of asbestos, uranium, plutonium and diesel fumes.

In filings ahead of the second trial, the deceased brakeman/switchman’s widow and estate requested $15 million. The railroad finally settled all claims in 2016 for an amount the widow found acceptable.

All told, our national railroad occupational illness attorney worked on this FELA wrongful death case for six years. This is not unusual since railroad corporations try every tactic to avoid accepting responsibility for failing to keep their employees’ safe and healthy. The corporations often attempt to simply wait out injured and ill workers or grieving family members. We continue fighting for our clients and for justice as long as necessary.

Court and Date: Knox County Circuit Court, Knoxville, TN, 2014; Tennessee Supreme Court, June 2015

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro. attorney