$200,000 Settlement for Freight Train Conductor Who Contracted Lymphoma From Breathing in Diesel Fumes on the Job | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our railroad occupational disease law firm client worked for a major freight rail company from 1965 to 2002. His job as a brakeman and conductor required him to spend most of his time at work inside the cabs of diesel locomotives. Exposure to diesel fumes, especially in small spaces, is associated with the development of large B-cell lymphoma, and our client was diagnosed with this form of cancer after he retired.

Despite going through six cycles of chemotherapy, the retired railroad employee saw his cancer spread throughout his body. Large tumors formed in his neck, chest and bladder, and he died in 2011 from complications of lymphoma.


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Key Legal Strategy

The retired brakeman/conductor hired our Virginia-based railroad occupational disease law firm after his former employer contested disability claims he filed under provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act. FELA requires rail companies that operate across state lines to compensate workers who suffer injuries or get sick on the job when evidence exists that a company could have acted to prevent the harm.

Helping our client succeed with his FELA case required producing evidence that he suffered dangerous diesel fume exposures while working for the railroad, that the company could have limited those exposures and that a credible link exists between breathing in diesel fumes and developing cancer. We started gathering this evidence by obtaining our client’s employment records and consulting with a certified industrial hygienist.

The employment records placed the retired brakeman/conductor in numerous diesel locomotives that lacked air conditioning and which regularly traveled through tunnels. Needing to keep the cab windows open to avoid passing out from the heat of the engine definitely caused our client to breath in unhealthy amounts of diesel fumes. We also found information showing that the man crewed trains that transported radioactive materials.

The industrial hygienist confirmed that the rail company could have taken steps to divert engine exhaust from locomotive cabs. Further, the expert expressed willingness to testify to the fact that the trains the brakeman/conductor crewed would be considered unsafe workplaces.

Last, our railroad occupational disease law firm hired a board-certified preventative medicine physician who wrote a report concluding that our client’s on-the-job exposure to diesel fumes was the most likely cause of his fatal lymphoma.

The freight rail company looked at all the evidence we compiled and agreed to pay our client $200,000 in settlement of all his claims. As part of the deal to keep this case from going to a jury trial, we cannot disclose any details of the settlement other than the total amount of monetary damages.

Railroad jobs are dangerous. In addition to constant risks for physical injuries, working around diesel engines and transporting flammable, radioactive and toxic substances like chemicals put railroad employees at danger for lung disease and cancer. We are glad that we could help this lifelong railroader obtain an occupational illness settlement.

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney