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Railroad Machinists Sickened By Diesel Exhaust, Asbestos & Welding Fumes

Three railroad machinists with exposures to asbestos and diesel exhaust brought suit against their former employer, alleging that their diagnoses were caused by workplace exposures at Long Island Railroad. The plaintiffs alleged that they were exposed to a variety of irritants including toxic chemicals, diesel fumes, metal dust, and asbestos. To prove their exposures, Dr. Victor Marchione provided expert medical testimony on the plaintiffs’ injuries, and Dr. Michael Ellenbecker testified about liability issues related to the plaintiffs’ alleged exposure to the toxic materials.

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    The First Machinist Plaintiff

    The first plaintiff, Lincoln Aguirre was employed as a laborer and machinist for Long Island Railroad from 1972 to 2002. As a laborer, he cleaned up metal chips created when train wheels were cut.  Mr. Aquirre picked the metal chips up with a shovel and carried them out of the work area. At trial, Mr. Aguirre testified that he could see particles of metal flying around the air and sticking to his clothing. At the end of the workday, Mr. Aguirre would blow his nose and “black stuff” would come out, and sometimes his saliva was also “dark” in color. Both as a laborer and machinist, he was also exposed to asbestos throughout the course of his employment. Mr. Aguirre reported symptoms including tiredness, breathing problems, chest congestion, and phlegm. Dr. Marchione testified at trial that Mr. Aguirre suffers from COPD and asbestosis and that his diagnoses are “secondary to the work environment where he has been exposed to excess dust, chemicals, fumes, and asbestos.”

    The Second Machinist – Asbestosis from Asbestos

    James Harrington, the second plaintiff, was employed at Long Island Railroad as a machinist from 1982 to 1996. Mr. Harrington had smoked for 37 years, but never more than one pack per day. Mr. Harrington reported suffering COPD from breathing chemical and diesel fumes, and asbestosis from breathing in asbestos. At trial, he testified that “the dirt, the grease, and the grime…everything was blowing all over the place.”

    The Third Machinist – Grinding Asbestos Gaskets

    The third plaintiff, Albito Velez-Zapato, was a laborer, machinist-helper, and machinist for Long Island Railroad from 1979 to 2000. Mr. Velez-Zapato came in contact with asbestos during the course of his work when grinding gaskets and witnessed asbestos “suspended in the air.” He was also exposed to metal dust from the grinding and welding which originated from the head brake units and the cutting of steel train wheels. At trial, Mr. Velez-Zapato testified that “there was a lot of dust [and] smoke,” as well as the fact that the indoor areas where grinding was done had “very poor” ventilation. Mr. Velez-Zapato was also exposed to diesel exhaust fumes while fueling train engines. Though he wore a mask while working approximately 3-4 times a week and used a respirator once a week, he still experienced coughing, problems breathing, and asthma.

    Dr. Marchione testified that Mr. Velez-Zapato had “inhaled irritants including diesel fumes, hydrocarbons, particulates, yard dust chemicals, and asbestos.” Dr. Marchione stated that Mr. Velez-Zapato was suffering from asbestosis and industrial asthma caused by “multiple agents in the environment in which he worked,” noting dust as a major factor.

    In his testimony, Dr. Ellenbecker stated that Mr. Aguirre’s description of encountering visible dust in the air associated with spray-on asbestos insulation while working on “power pack railroad cars” demonstrated a “very high level of exposure.” Dr. Ellenbecker also believed that Mr. Aguirre was exposed to diesel exhaust, due to his work onboard the locomotives.

    Alongside the plaintiffs’ individual descriptions of their exposures, it was important for the plaintiffs to establish negligence on behalf of their employer. Dr. Ellenbecker, an industrial hygienist, determined that the Long Island Railroad did not recognize or identify various work practices at the railroad that exposed employees to asbestos until the late 1980s. As an illustration of this theory, Dr. Ellenbecker noted that asbestos studies were published as early as the 1920s, finding that there was a positive association between asbestos exposure and asbestosis, as well as different cancers. Despite those longstanding studies, the industrial hygienist did not find any evidence that the Long Island Railroad had evaluated levels of asbestos exposure in its workplaces “until well into the 1980s.”

    Dr. Ellenbecker’s testimony that the plaintiff machinists were exposed to unsafe levels of asbestos in their work helped the court to decide that Long Island Railroad was negligent in providing a safe workplace for their employees. As a result of this determination, Aguirre was awarded $6 million, Harrington was awarded $4 million, (reduced 40 percent for his comparative negligence of smoking history) and Velez-Zapato was awarded $8 million.

    Hughes Law Offices is providing this case history of railroad machinists with asbestos exposures to inform visitors about actual case fact patterns and rulings. Unless specifically noted, the cases summarized herein were not handled by attorneys at Hughes Law Offices.  If you believe that you have a railroad cancer case, feel free to call 312-877-5588 and speak with an attorney today.

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