Jury verdict for $2.6 million to Railroad Engineer Suffering Diesel Exhaust Asthma

Posted on May 08, 2008

In late April 2008, an Ohio state court jury ordered Conrail to pay $2.6 million to its former locomotive engineer, for negligently causing his diesel exhaust asthma lung disease.  Frank Battaglia, worked in the Detroit, Michigan rail yards for Conrail for 23 years as a railroad engineer, before he was eventually diagnosed with diesel exhaust fume asthma.  He obtained a lawyer recommended by the brotherhood of locomotive engineers and trainmen (BLET), to pursue a claim against Conrail.

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Attorneys E.J. Leizerman and Ryan Gembala, of Toledo, Ohio, represented Battaglia, and Conrail retained Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania lawyers who specialize in defending railroads, including defending claims involving diesel fume type cases.

Battaglia’s lawyers presented evidence that his lung disease was the result of inhaling fumes hundreds, if not thousands of occasions while he worked as a railroad engineer usually involving his location inside locomotive engine cabs.  His attorneys argued that federal railroad administration (FRA)  regulations prohibit diesel exhaust fumes from entering into the locomotive engine cab, and that this regulatory violation directly led to lung disease in Mr. Battaglia.

Battaglia’s doctor testified that his diesel asthma was likely the result of his long-term exposures while working for the railroad.  Conrail is a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern, and one of Norfolk Southern’s medical doctors also gave testimony to defend Conrail, along with other doctors that were specially retained on behalf of Conrail.  Conrail denied the worker suffered any disease from diesel fumes.

The jury received testimony for an entire week, and then deliberated five hours before returning the $2.6 million verdict in favor of Battaglia.  This is the second major verdict attorney Leizerman has obtained in a diesel exhaust fume trial, with an earlier verdict for another railroad locomotive engineer several years earlier, who sued Norfolk Southern.  That earlier verdict was upheld on appeal in the state of Ohio appeals court system.

Rail workers most exposed to diesel fumes are railroad locomotive engineers, railroad conductors, railroad carmen, and railroad shop workers who have worked around diesel engines for decades.  I have written a number of articles recently (see our library here on this site, and on the Injuryboard Virginia Beach web blog) about the growing occupational awareness that diesel exhaust fume exposure over the long term has led to not only diesel asthma, but that medical experts have documented an increased incidence of lung cancer and even bladder cancer in railroad workers with these long-term exposures to diesel fumes as well.  Our law firm has received an increasing number of inquiries from railroad workers who believe they may suffer diesel asthma lung disease.  There were many types of  railroad engines that permitted the diesel fumes to trail inside the engine cabs, and it is important to investigate and document the types and classes of engines worked on or around, the long term exposure that may be involved, and all other potential causes of disease besides diesel fumes.  Also, only an experienced occupational medical physician can determine if your particular form of lung disease symptoms are consistent with this often undiagnosed form of “diesel asthma," and the doctor must also evaluate any other occupational exposures to dusts, fumes and similar irritants.

The Environmental Protection Agency, recently in 2008, finally put into effect  new regulations governing diesel engine emissions in railroad locomotives as well as trucks and other types of motors using diesel fuel.  Soon, there will be monitoring requirements for what types of emissions are coming from the engines, but this will have no affect on workers who may have been exposed in the past.  There have been a number of medical journal articles discussing the pervasive adverse health affects of diesel fumes, and the awareness of the dangers of long term exposures have now been well documented.  The public is just now starting to understand the issue.

Our law firm also practices personal injury law and concentrates much of our effort in the area of railroad worker injuries and diseases (website: HSInjurylaw.com ).