An Illinois jury returned a $7.5 million verdict recently against a railroad company in a benzene exposure case. The Plaintiff worked for two railroad companies over three decades. Part of his job involved loading and unloading creosote-soaked railroad ties, which he alleged often caused him to be covered from head to toe in wet creosote. This was significant because creosote contains benzene, a known carcinogen. The worker was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), which later progressed into Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in 2008.
The Plaintiff filed his lawsuit in 2010 claiming that he developed the leukemia as a result of his long-term exposure to toxic chemicals, such as benzene, while working for the predecessor railroad company. Evidence produced at trial showed that the predecessor railroad company knew of the dangers of benzene as early as the mid-1980s when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a memo advising that the company needed to comply with certain safety regulations including providing employees with adequate protective equipment such as boots, gloves, respirators and goggles. The Plaintiff argued that the railroad company did not comply with those regulations until the successor railroad company took over.
During the week-long trial, a medical expert testified in the Plaintiff’s favor, advising that even the slight exposure to benzene can cause AML. Moreover, the lawyer for the Plaintiff argued that the Defendant knew about the toxicity of the substances for years and that they knew how to handle those substances, but failed to take appropriate action by providing adequate protective gear. Conversely, medical experts for the Defense testified that doctors do not know the cause of most cases of AML and that the Plaintiff was not exposed to the toxins in sufficient amounts to cause AML.
The jurors awarded the Plaintiff $3 million for past and future medical expenses; $1.5 million for disability experienced, and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future; $1.3 million for loss of normal life experienced, and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future; $1 million for pain and suffering; and $700,000 for lost earnings.
When a railroad company negligently violates any employee safety law or regulation, it becomes liable for paying injury and wrongful death claims brought under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). This is a federal law that was passed by Congress in 1908 to protect railroad workers in the event of work-related injury or illness. This law was born after countless railroad workers suffered serious or fatal injuries during the course of their labor.
As we have discussed in previous issues, it is very important for railroad (and all workers) to know and understand the risks involved to their health and safety in the workplace due to exposure to toxic chemicals such as benzene. It is also important that these workers be provided with the proper legal options to receive fair and just compensation for the negligence of others. If you need additional information on this subject contact John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Madison-St. Clair Record and the Edwardsville Intelligencer
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