In many respects, railroad work can be a dangerous job. Railroad workers are routinely exposed to risks that employees in other sectors do not encounter. The Federal Employers Liability Act aims to address these risks by providing injured railroad workers with the right to seek financial compensation for on-the-job injuries.
Occupational exposure claims — for injuries or illnesses caused by repeated or prolonged exposure to hazardous substances — are common FELA actions. Railroad workers who are injured by occupational exposures can recover compensation under FELA if it can be shown that the railroad company’s negligence played a role in causing the hazardous exposure.
A recent FELA case from Texas serves as an illustrative example of how occupational exposure claims work. The plaintiffs in the case are seven former employees of BNSF Railway, who claim that they developed serious lung injuries as a result of occupational exposure to asbestos and silica-containing dust. These substances are well-known to cause illnesses including asbestosis, silicosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The plaintiffs claim that the railroad was aware of the dangers posed by exposure to asbestos and silica dust, but failed to take steps to protect employees from harm. Specifically, they point to evidence showing that the railroad had been informed of serious risks as early as 1935. At that time, the Association of American Railroads recommended that railroads take steps to prevent employees from becoming injured by hazardous dust, including removing dust from working areas, having employees wear respirators, analyzing air samples from working areas and educating employees about the risks of exposure.
The Texas railroad workers further claim that BNSF was negligent in continuing to use products that contained asbestos and silica even though it knew of the dangers it could cause. They argue that, at the very least, BNSF should have taken more steps to protect its employees from harm. In particular, they claim that BNSF failed to provide appropriate respirators, failed to conduct sufficient air monitoring and failed to educate employees about the risks of asbestos and silica exposure and the fact that those risks could be magnified by smoking cigarettes.
Pursuing FELA claims for occupational exposure
Sadly, injuries caused by occupational exposure to asbestos and silica are very common in the railroad industry. Even though railroads were aware of the risks of exposure, many continued to use products that contained these hazardous substances.
It is important for railroad employees injured by occupational exposure to take steps to protect their rights. Some of the damages for which injured workers can be compensated include medical bills, mental anguish, pain and suffering, physical impairment and fear of developing cancer. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness that you think may be traceable to occupational exposure as a railroad worker, talk to a FELA claims lawyer who can evaluate your case and help you understand your options.