Diesel Injury Law

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Railroad Workers & Mesothelioma

Railroad workers are at an elevated risk of mesothelioma. Why is that? Because, historically, railroad workers have endured chronic exposures to asbestos.

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    What is Mesothelioma?

    Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposures. The disease develops in the mesothelium.1 The mesothelium is the tissue that covers the majority of your internal organs.2 There are four types of mesothelioma:

    • pleural mesothelioma (lungs),
    • peritoneal mesothelioma (abdomen),
    • pericardial mesothelioma (heart), and
    • testicular mesothelioma (testes).

    The majority of mesotheliomas are pleural, where the disease starts in the lining of the lungs.

    What Causes Mesothelioma?

    Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor. About 8 out of 10 people who develop mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos.3-4 Mesothelioma has a long latency period. Several decades can pass between the development of mesothelioma and the asbestos exposures that caused it.2 Exactly how asbestos triggers the DNA changes that result in mesothelioma is not fully understood.

    What is Asbestos?

    Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral that is mined from deposits around the world. Once removed from the ground, it was developed into a wide assortment of products and materials. There are six different types of asbestos. All six are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 carcinogens.5 Examples of other Group 1 carcinogens include benzene, plutonium, and tobacco.

    How do Exposures to Asbestos Occur?

    Most dangerous exposures to asbestos occur through ingestion or inhalation. As asbestos materials deteriorate they break down and release asbestos fibers into the air. Once airborne, asbestos fibers can hang in the air for days and are readily ingested or inhaled.

    These types of exposures typically occur in occupational settings. However, this is not always the case. Asbestos fibers also cling to clothing. Individuals who have never worked around asbestos materials have developed mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to the asbestos brought into their homes on the clothing of loved ones. These are often referred to as secondary exposures.

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    Why Have so Many Railroad Workers Been Exposed to Asbestos?

    Asbestos is tough, resistant to corrosion, an excellent insulator, and cheap to produce. These characteristics made it very well suited for a wide variety of applications within the railroad industry. The railroads began using asbestos shortly after industrial production of asbestos began, and it was not long before asbestos was used throughout the industry. Many railroad workers were exposed on a daily basis, and asbestos exposure remains a hazard to railroad workers today.

    When was Asbestos Known to Cause Mesothelioma?

    Asbestos was identified as a toxin by the Association of American Railroads in 1937. By 1958, railroads knew asbestos caused cancer. After 1960, it was medically accepted that asbestos definitely causes mesothelioma.

    When did the Railroads Stop Using Asbestos?

    By 1960, the railroads had become so reliant on asbestos that they resisted calls to phase out its use for decades. However, manufacturers slowly started to refuse to manufacture new products with asbestos. As a result, the railroads finally had to begin transitioning to alternatives in the mid-1980s. However, the threat of asbestos continues to linger. As recently as 2015, CSX was cited by OSHA for violating the asbestos standard at CSX’s Selkirk Shop.

    Which Railroad Workers are at the Greatest Risk of Mesothelioma?

    Traditionally, locomotive machinists, electricians, pipefitters and car department workers had some of the worst asbestos exposures.  Those railroad employees performed hands-on work, which involved cutting and shaping of asbestos containing parts, such as gaskets and brake shoes. But there were also asbestos exposure routes for locomotive engineers and conductors and track department workers. Railroad buildings and bridges were literally constructed out of asbestos-containing materials. And when the railroads remediated asbestos from the locker room floors and ceilings, the contractors often negligently spread the asbestos dust throughout the work space.

    What Other Diseases are Associated with Asbestos Exposures?

    In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposures can lead to:

    What can I do if I was Exposed to Asbestos?

    If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease, the attorneys at Hughes Law Offices may be able to help. These are complicated cases that require experienced attorneys. While you and your loved ones focus on recovery, let us do the work needed to prove your case. Contact Hughes Law Offices today at 312-877-5588 for a free attorney consultation.

    Railroad Mesothelioma Verdicts & Settlements

    $6,951,000 verdict (California, 2015)

    The Plaintiff worked as a boilermaker for Southern Pacific Railroad (which merged with UP in ‘96). During his time with the railroad, he was repeatedly exposed to asbestos at Southern Pacific’s Sacramento locomotive shops in California. As a result of his exposure, he developed malignant mesothelioma. During discovery, it was revealed that Southern Pacific did not comply with regulatory requirements regarding asbestos for at least 15 years while the Plaintiff was an employee. The Jury awarded $451,265 in economic damages and an additional $6,500,000 for pain and suffering. (Emerson v. Union Pacific)

    $5,240,000 verdict (Texas, 2014)

    The Plaintiff worked for the Great Northern Railway (a predecessor to BNSF) as an apprentice carman in Waite Park, Minnesota for a little over two years. During his employment, he was exposed to asbestos fibers while working with asbestos-containing insulation and parts. More than 50 years after leaving the railroad, the Plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age 78. The Jury awarded $3,240,000 for physical pain and an additional $2,000,000 for mental anguish. (Blommer v. BNSF)

    $6,600,000 settlement (Massachusetts, 2004)

    The Plaintiff, a railroad mechanic, worked for Penn Central and later Amtrak at the Southampton Street Yard in Boston, Massachusetts. During his employment, he worked with asbestos-containing pipe insulation, wall insulation, and brake shoes. As a result of his chronic asbestos exposure, he developed malignant pleural mesothelioma. The Plaintiff eventually reached individual settlements with the many Defendants in the case. The aggregate settlement value was approximately $6,600,000. (Moneypenny v. Metropolitan Life Insurance, et al)

    $7,500,000 verdict (North Carolina, 2004)

    The Plaintiff was employed by CSX for 38 years working as a clerk and then later a supervisor at CSX’s Hamlet Yard in Hamlet, North Carolina. During his employment, he endured chronic asbestos exposure by breathing in ambient asbestos fibers which could be found in all areas of the facility. Three years after he retired, the Plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 59. His cancer required that his left lung and part of his stomach be removed and he underwent three courses of chemotherapy. Despite his treatment, by the time of trial, the Plaintiff had received a fatal prognosis. (Williams v. CSX)

    Hughes Law Offices is providing railroad asbestos case histories 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. To learn more about these types of cases visit our Asbestos Verdicts & Settlements page.


    [1] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22432-mesothelioma.

    [2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mesothelioma/symptoms-causes/syc-20375022.

    [3] https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.

    [4] https://www.pennmedicine.org/cancer/types-of-cancer/mesothelioma/causes.

    [5] https://monographs.iarc.who.int/list-of-classifications.

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