Railroad Cancer and Disease Lawyer Rick Shapiro Has an Erin Brokovich Moment (Law Firm E-Newsletter) | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Winston Payne worked at a notorious Knoxville junkyard contaminated with radiation, but he had also been a smoker, quitting 17 years before his cancer diagnosis. This junkyard subsequently became a Superfund toxic radiation cleanup site. In 2005, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to endure 43 rounds of chemotherapy and 44 radiation treatments.

The now-deceased switchman and his legal estate obtained an 8.6 million dollar verdict from a Knoxville, TN jury back in November of 2010. The trial judge mistakenly questioned the jury’s verdict, which led to a last-minute alteration of the verdict to 3.2 million dollars. Then, amazingly, the same judge granted CSX a new trial on all issues months later.

To Rick’s shock and dismay, the second trial judge granted CSX summary judgment and dismissed the case entirely, just before the second trial, ruling that none of Payne’s expert witnesses could testify about the cause of Mr. Payne’s lung cancer (despite having testified in the first Knoxville trial).

Rick did not give up. He appealed that decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Rick made the right decision. The unanimous Court of Appeals panel decided in favor of Rick’s position and determined that the estate should receive the original 8.6 million dollar jury verdict, unless the trial judge determines that the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of evidence presented.

Inside information from Rick about this interesting and tortured case

Rick filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Energy for information about Oak Ridge laboratories in Tennessee. Rick was looking for evidence that enriched uranium and plutonium contaminated metal scrap was sold and  transferred by railroad to the Knoxville area junkyard, where Mr. Payne worked.

Also, Rick issued similar requests to the Tennessee state radiological offices, for its files relating to the cleanup. He and Mr. Payne went together dug through thousands of pages of cleanup documents at the actual TN offices, and later some of these materials proved crucial in establishing that yellowcake uranium and plutonium had contaminated the junkyard. 

Rick videotaped a heart-wrenching deposition of Mr. Payne, months before he passed away, which the jury viewed at trial.

The final chapter of this multi-year legal saga has not yet been written. CSX filed a motion for reconsideration with the Tennessee Court of Appeals, but that was quickly denied. CSX may seek a discretionary appeal to Tennessee Supreme Court. 

Rick is not deterred. He has worked on this case for seven years. His tireless efforts, along with Knoxville attorney Sidney Gilreath, will continue until justice is done for Mr. Payne’s estate.

Thomson Reuters caught wind of this major appellate decision and published an article on it. Feel free to read the article here.

Also, news outlets in Tennessee have also reported on the decision. Read it here.