Virginia Railroad (FELA) Injury Attorneys North Carolina Railroad (FELA) Injury Attorneys | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Virginia Railroad (FELA) Injury Attorneys

North Carolina Railroad (FELA) Injury Attorneys

Railroad workers face on the-job injuries of many types, on locomotive engines, walking beside railroad tracks, at railroad industrial sidings, in hotels being supplied by railroads as lodging, as well as during transport by vans supplied by their railroad employers.  Below we discuss some of our previous successful case histories and results: Defective Brake Sticks,

  • Injuries Getting On and Off Train Car Platforms
  • Injuries Operating Switches, Bow Handle Switches
  • Railroad Derailment Injuries (To Crew And Third Parties)
  • Railroad Crossing Cases With Injuries (Crewmembers and Third Parties, Car Drivers)
  • Toxic Railroad Spills, Derailments with Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals
  • Asbestos Disease Claims, Mesothelioma, Asbestos or Diesel Exhaust Fume Cancers.


1.  Defective Brake Sticks, Injuries Getting On And Off Train Car Platforms:

Brake sticks have been used by railroad workers since the late 1800s but they became disfavored with railroads and were out of use for decades.  The purpose of a brake stick is to allow a railroad worker to not have to get on or off brake platforms on various types of train cars: whether hopper cars, box cars, tanker cars or other types.  A supervisor with Norfolk Southern filed for patent for a modern form of an extending and retracting brake stick in order to reduce injuries of workers climbing on and off train car brake platforms.  The patent called for at least two stages, kind of like used on a swimming pool leaf net, except that most brake sticks have a metallic hook that allows a worker to push or pull on a brake wheel.  The idea of the brake stick was to reduce injuries and save time.  How?

Norfolk Southern actually did studies to determine the average time it took workers to get on and off a coal train that is, climb onto each car and tie a hand brake, go to the next car, tighten a hand brake, wheel, etc.  As an alternative, Norfolk Southern had the same workers use a telescoping modern brake stick and not climb on the brake wheel platform at all but stand in a position where the brake wheel could be either tightened or released from the ground.  By eliminating the worker getting on or off the train car platform, the railroad sought to eliminate injuries that accompany tripping or falling off brake platforms and other types of exertion injuries.

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Norfolk Southern, CSX, and several other Class 1 railroads mandated the use of the brake sticks in many territories or yards and the railroad trained workers on how to use them. The types of cases we have successfully represented workers on typically involved engineers or brakemen/conductors, because the multistage brake stick can break during normal use.  For example when workers have extended the telescoping brake stick and secured it on a brake wheel, sometimes while applying pressure, the brake stick could fail in one of several ways.  Sometimes, the two stages pulled apart causing shoulder or rotator cuff injuries or back strain.  The hook could break off the end of the brake stick as well.  Our firm has represented brakemen/conductors for some of these types of injuries. Also, if a worker gets injured on the brake platform because the particular railroad fails to implement brake sticks, there is a potential argument that the railroad failed to provide a safe place to work because of not supplying a safe brake stick as equipment.

Last, it should be mentioned that the Safety Appliance Act is a federal regulatory scheme that protects railroad workers if they are injured on the job.  The Safety Appliance Act provides that the railroad must have safe train brake equipment, and several courts have ruled that a brake stick, once it is supplied by the railroad, becomes an accessory or item of equipment used in conjunction with the brake system.  If that brake stick fails, it can be considered in some cases a violation of the Safety Appliance Act.

2.  Injuries Operating Switches, Bow Handle Switches:

Another not uncommon injury among railroad brakemen/conductor or switchmen is injuries while throwing switches.  On railroads including Norfolk Southern, CSX, Amtrak and other eastern railroads, it is common for transportation workers to throw ground-level track switches on a daily basis.  Every type of railroad track has switches that direct trains to either remain on mainline track or go into industry sidings.  There are a number of types of track switches used by railroads including New Century switches, High Level switches, and a number of tradenames cover these.  For decades railroad workers have suffered back and shoulder and knee injuries while throwing switches when they have defects or do not operate as intended.   There are federal regulations governing the fact that switches must operate as intended and must not catch or fail to throw for the full range of movement.  While it is difficult to prove federal regulatory violations, often we have to study track inspection records in order to determine if there was a defect in the switch or it failed to throw property.  Sometimes switch injuries are unwitnessed by others (unless there is someone who comes and inspects it later) and the testimony of a conductor that a switch failed to throw, can alone support a claim that the railroad failed to supply a safe place to work.

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In other cases there was an inspection of the switch and we were able to prove that there was a part missing or functionally it was not working correctly.  We can prove our case without a full defect, the law requires that the switch never worked as intended and if the switches suddenly “catches” during the throw motion, or if failed to move as it should have this may be sufficient. The railroad studied its injury records over the last few decades and became aware that many injuries occurred in the process of throwing a track-level switch like a New Century ball type switch. 

Several persons connected with railroad work patented a new kind of switch called a Bow Handle switch which ergonomically made it easier and safer to throw track-level switches.  The Bow Handle ergonomically extends up to the regular waist level for a worker so the actual range of the throw motion was easier and less taxing on workers.  These types of switches have reduced the rate of injuries, and if a worker throws an old-style switch it might be arguable that a Bow Handle switch should have been installed because the railroads are aware they are much easier to throw and cause far less injuries.  This has been argument we have made in several cases, which can be persuasive in a case where the railroad has Bow Handle switches in a geographical area but leaves some of the old-style switches when it knows they are not as

3.  Railroad Derailment Injuries (To Crew And Third Parties) :

Our railroad injury law firm has handled numbers of serious derailment cases in which freight trains derailed and toxic substances escaped throughout the Eastern United States including in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and other states.  Derailments can be caused by head-on collisions of freight trains or passenger trains, and we have handled this type of case, which is a very challenging form of railroad injury claim. Often, if two freight trains of the same railroad like Norfolk Southern, CSX or Conrail trains, collide, it is obvious that someone has to be negligent for two trains of the same railroad to arrive on the same track head on. 

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Figuring out who is the responsible party involves understanding significant railroad cases because a head-on collision can be caused by a dispatcher error, or a crew error (human factors).  First of all we will obtain the audio dispatch tapes that show the crew communications with the dispatcher controlling the area.  Secondly, there are electronic switches in certain areas that can be controlled by a dispatcher meaning that the train crew doesn’t even have to throw that switch.  These types of electronic switching records can be obtained.

Also written documentation of who threw which switches when can be obtained in this type of injury case. If the derailment involves a toxic chemical spill, there are federal regulations that govern safe railroad transport of toxic chemicals for example and these must be looked at along with the hazardous or radioactive transportation regulations. Our firm handled cases involving a CSX head-on collision in Virginia, our firm has handled one or more derailments causing fires in North Carolina, and our firm handled cases arising from Norfolk Southern’s notorious Graniteville, South Carolina toxic spill of chlorine that caused a town to be evacuated, and caused several deaths, and many injured.


4.  Railroad Crossing Cases With Injuries (Crewmembers, Caused Third Parties, Car Drivers):

There are many forms of railroad, vehicle railroad crossing injury cases.  Many cases involve a truck or tractor trailer that collides with the railroad train at a railroad crossing over a highway or even over a private industrial siding area.  In these types of railroad crossing collisions there are several factors analyzed as to negligence and fault:

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1) Did lights and gates control the railroad crossing?

2) Were there audible sounds of ringing on the lights or gates?

3) Was there anything besides a crossbuck at the railroad crossing?

4) Was the train horn blowing in a timely manner?

5) Was there something blocking the vision of the motorist like vegetation, bushes, trees so that the train was not seen until the last moment?

6) Were there two trains operating in two different directions at the time of the collision?

Needless to say, railroad crossing crashes that cause injuries or deaths are very complicated and challenging but our firm has successfully represented not only crewmembers of the railroads involving locomotive engineers or brakemen, conductors on the trains, but in certain cases our lawyers have represented the motorist or the passenger particularly if there was a long-standing knowledge on the railroad that lights and gates were required at the crossing to make it safe.

We will check the switch inspection and electronic crossing control records leading to the crossing that might control the light, gate or train movement before it gets to the crossing, we will check the FRA records of whether there were prior accidents at a crossing, and of course we will canvass all witnesses or persons who may have been eyewitnesses or who may have heard whether the train crew blew its whistle in a timely fashion before it approached the crossing as well.  Each locomotive engine whether it is a freight train engine or a passenger train engine, is now equipped with a black box which is called an event recorder. 

The event recorder will record speed, braking motion of the engine, throttle position of the locomotive engine, when the horn or bell was sounded or when it was sounding, and it is critical information in any railroad crossing accident whether we are representing the crewmembers or in some cases the motorist.  Our firm has handled numerous railroad crossing cases where we represented the crewmembers who suffered injuries at a crossing accident and we have represented persons in Virginia and North Carolina who were in vehicles and suffered injuries at a railroad crossing where we felt that the railroad failed to supply lights or gates or other active warning devices.

5.  Toxic Railroad Spills, Derailments With Toxic And Hazardous Chemicals-

Another type of injury claim involves exposure to a chemical, toxic, or hazardous substances being transported by railroad.  This can also include oil tanker cars that derail and cause fire, inhalation injuries or evacuation of residents.  With the increase in the transport of oil from Canada to the United States, oil-related fires and chemical injuries are on the increase.  Our firm has handled chlorine toxic spills (Norfolk Southern Graniteville case) and also handled railroad worker claims of exposure to toxic chemicals on locomotive engines.  For example locomotives have massive batteries.  In some cases the batteries can get hot and overcharge and put off toxic chemicals, and these chemicals can cause serious pulmonary (lung) injuries torailroad workers like engineers or conductors. 

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Our firm also has handled cases involving inhalation injuries from battery chemicals on locomotive engines.   Many types of hazardous chemicals are transported by railroad, and regulations apply governing many of these types of transportation activities by railroad car.  A careful analysis must be made of whether a railroad violated any such hazardous or chemical transportation regulations in connection with injuries suffered from a derailment or spill of the substance when it was moved by railroad or when it spilled at a derailment or crossing accident.


6.  Asbestos Disease Claims, Mesothelioma, Asbestos Or Diesel Exhaust Fume Cancers:

Asbestos is a well-known cause of permanent lung diseases and cancers including mesothelioma terminal cancer, asbestos-induced lung cancer, colon cancer, and throat cancers.  Our firm has represented dozens hundreds of prior railroad workers who have suffered fromsilicosis (sand or rock dust) lung disease, asbestos lung disease, or cancers caused by asbestos. First of all we are familiar with the medicine relating to lung diseases or cancers caused by asbestos and other toxic substances from dozens of prior cases we have handled.  Second, we have to know where to find the evidence that the railroad was using asbestos or sand or rock dustthat may have caused other forms of lung diseases like silicosis or asbestosis.  These dust diseases of the lung are often diagnosed by pulmonary (lung) doctors and by radiologists who are skilled in looking for dust diseases of the lung on X-rays or CT scans.

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We have worked with these specialists for many years representing railroad workers who have come down with permanent lung diseases, who sought out experienced railroad injury lawyers to help prove that railroad occupational sources were the cause of their disease.  In many cases railroad workers were cigarette smokers and are concerned about whether we would be able to prove their case of asbestos cancer in a setting of cigarette smoking over prior decades.   We have successfully represented many railroad workers who had smoking histories because there is well-documented medical literature that cigarette smokers who happen to have been exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period of time had a far greater risk of getting cancers as a result of the synergy between these types of exposures. 


One of the particularly infuriating things about asbestos disease and cancer is that the railroads knew by 1960 of the cancer-causing synergy between cigarette smoking and asbestos in the workplace but they never warned railroad workers that cigarette smoking coupled with inhaling asbestos made them up to 60 to 80 times more likely to develop cancers than if they were nonsmokers. With regard to the terrible terminal cancer of the lung lining known as mesothelioma, a history of cigarette smoking does not increase the risk of mesothelioma at all.  Mesothelioma can be a result of very small exposures to asbestos in the workplace at the railroad. 

For reasons not understood, some persons can come down with terminal cancer called mesothelioma literally 30 to 50 years after their exposure to asbestos dust in the air.  Because this incredibly toxic type of cancer can be even caused by one or more exposures, OSHA acted to ban new product asbestos insulating materials as its first official act when it was formed.  It is invaluable for our railroad worker clients to know that we have collected industry internal asbestos documents that help prove what types of railroad equipment, insulating materials, parts, contained asbestos because the railroads essentially tried to hide the ball and require workers to prove what they were exposed to decades before they are diagnosed with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma.  We have successfully represented many workers, including engineers, brakemen/conductors, and track workers who contracted cancer after being exposed to asbestos insulating materials in the workplace