Highlights From Four Decades of Railroad Injury Law in Virginia

Freight and passenger rail companies have operated in Virginia since the 1830s. During each of those nearly 200 years, railroad workers, from engineers and trackmen to clerks and truck drivers, have suffered, injuries, died and developed debilitating injuries on the job.

Working on and around trains has been, and continues to be, dangerous. With much of the railroad industry in Virginia currently concentrated in Norfolk, Newport News and Portsmouth due to the ports, it is no accident that our personal injury and wrongful death law firm locate on the Norfolk-Virginia Beach line concentrates on advising and representing rail company employees.

Founded by a Former Railroad Worker

The firm presently known as Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn formed in the mid-1980s after a man who was forced out of a promising railroad career by injuries earned his law degree and set up shop. The former brakeman and conductor for Norfolk & Western vowed to stand up for other injured, ill and deceased rail employees. We remain committed to carrying out that mission.

Most of our cases have involved CSX, Norfolk Southern and Amtrak, as well as those companies’ earlier corporate incarnations. This has been true for the simple reason that CSX, Norfolk Southern and Amtrak account for nearly all the freight and passenger rail traffic in Virginia. Plus, CSX used to have its headquarters in Richmond before relocating to Jacksonville, Florida (FL). Norfolk Southern operated out of Downtown Norfolk until it moved the bulk of its headquarters staff to Atlanta. Amtrak runs out of Washington, DC.


The past four decades have seen our attorneys take on hundreds of cases brought under the provisions of laws such as the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, the Locomotive Inspection Act, the Safety Appliance Act and a range of whistleblower regulations. We have not limited ourselves to practicing in Virginia, either. Our clients have lived and worked in Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the District of Columbia. One of our lawyers has even argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and written the book-length “Railroad Health and Safety; A Litigator’s Guide” chapter for the America Jurisprudence Trials series.

At the Cutting Edge of Railroad Injury, Illness and Wrongful Death Claims

From our earliest days, we have taken a special interest in cancer and lung disease cases. We were among the first firms to help a silicosis sufferer obtain compensation from Norfolk Southern. Evidence gathered by our firm convinced a jury that the company had done too little to control silica dust (sand, essentially) from arising from track ballast. Years of breathing the dust while working left our client with lungs damaged so badly the person could barely breathe.

A long track record of successfully representing retired railroaders who developed lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma from daily exposures to asbestos and other toxic materials prepared us to assist a conductor who became ill and died following decades of inhaling diesel fumes, manipulating asbestos-lined locomotive parts and hauling radioactive debris from  dismantled atomic bomb plant. Sadly, our client in that case passed away before the rail company exhausted its numerous appeals. We were able to continue fighting for just compensation on behalf of his widow, however.

Historic and Record-Setting Cases

Some of our proudest work involved consulting with the classes of plaintiffs following the deadly release of chlorine gas from Norfolk Southern tanker cars in Graniteville, South Carolina (SC). Nine people died and hundreds of others suffered chemical burns to their lungs, throat and skin. Settling some claims took more than 10 years.

While that case dragged on, we secured a then-record $46 million jury award for a man who sustained a traumatic brain injury in a train derailment. We also represented the victim of a vehicle crash in a rail yard. Our client became completely paralyzed and needed around-the-clock care following the collision. His employer fought the case right up to the day that a jury trial was set to begin before agreeing to pay tens of millions of dollars in settlement.

In summary, our Virginia law firm has focused for decades on holding railroad corporations accountable for acts of negligence that injure, sicken and kill workers and other people. Most of our cases involve more-routine derailments, slips and falls, and crashes, but no legitimate claim goes ignored. When Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern or any other rail company knows we’re involved, they know they must take the case seriously.


Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia