Mesothelioma Railroad Workers

Mesothelioma Risks for Railroad Workers in Alabama

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the protective linings of organs after asbestos exposure. Railroad workers face an elevated risk as asbestos has been extensively utilized in insulation, construction supplies, and equipment on Alabama’s railroads. Countless workers have unknowingly suffered dangerous exposure to this toxic substance, and many now face mesothelioma and other debilitating asbestos-related conditions.

How Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma in Railroad Workers

Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that were highly valued for industrial applications in the 19th and 20th centuries due to their durability, fire resistance, and insulating abilities. However, asbestos also poses a lethal health hazard when its microscopic fibers become airborne and are inhaled or ingested into the body. These thin, sharp asbestos fibers easily penetrate soft tissues and lodge deep into the lungs, abdominal cavity, or heart.

Over the course of several years, the irreversible inflammation and cellular trauma from embedded asbestos fibers can lead to genetic mutations and the growth of malignant, unregulated cancer cells. The cancerous tumors emerge directly from the linings of the site of asbestos exposure, known as the mesothelium tissue in the lungs (pleura), abdomen (peritoneum), or heart (pericardium). Hence, this insidious oncological disease was termed malignant mesothelioma.

At advanced stages, mesothelioma tumors metastasize and spread to affect vital organs. Mesothelioma patients suffer severe symptoms including shortness of breath and chest pain from lung pleural disease, abdominal swelling, and nerve pain from peritoneal spread, plus fatigue, anemia, and weight loss in the cancer’s late stages. Due to the decades-long latency period before onset, mesothelioma diagnoses often occur in older age groups. Nonetheless, the aggressive cancer still rapidly overwhelms the bodies of its victims after its stealthy incubation.

Alabama Railroad Workers’ Vulnerability to Mesothelioma

Railroad workers face an especially high risk of asbestos exposure and resulting mesothelioma diagnoses due to the amount and duration of exposure that was inherent across Alabama’s railway industry for over the past century or longer. Asbestos was utilized in nearly all components of trains from insulation on boilers and steam pipes to brake linings and cement furnace boards. This meant railroad workers handled and disturbed friable asbestos materials on a daily basis while maintaining and operating equipment.

Brakemen were exposed to asbestos dust clouds when applying older brake shoes. Boilermakers and electricians worked extensively around asbestos thermal insulation wraps. Machinists and laborers cut and installed asbestos gaskets, panels, and cement boards. Yet without proper precautions, containment, or personal protection, these essential activities dispersed masses of fine toxic fibers into workers’ breathing zones.

Making matters worse, controlling asbestos dust exposure was extremely lax across occupational settings until the late 1970s when federal regulations finally intervened. Thus, for decades, railway corporations gave little regard to the mounting evidence warning about asbestos health risks published in medical journals as early as the 1930s. Instead, they continued purchasing and utilizing asbestos by the ton throughout most of the century.

The Need to Hold Railroads Accountable

A recent report analyzed 1999-2015 asbestos mortality data, finding that 524 Alabamians died from mesothelioma, a common illness related to asbestos exposure. Many industries throughout Alabama use asbestos, putting their citizens at risk of exposure. Asbestos was used in the railroad industry mainly for strength and heat resistance. These sobering statistics indeed indicate that more work is needed to prevent such tragedies.

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health problems including pleural mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer. No worker should face toxic exposures known for decades to cause agonizing cancers, and it is crucial that all industries, including the railroad industry, improve safety education and hazardous substance controls to protect their workers from asbestos exposure.

Legal Options for Railroad Workers under FELA 

For railroad workers who have developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related conditions, obtaining strong legal representation is crucial to successfully pursuing compensation from their employers. Most asbestos exposure claims by railroad workers fall under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Enacted in 1908, FELA governs railroad worker injury and illness claims, providing more favorable compensation recovery opportunities for plaintiffs than typical workers’ compensation programs.

Key provisions of FELA with regard to asbestos exposure include:

  • Negligence Standard – The law establishes negligence liability for railroads when an injury or illness results even partially from the employer’s negligence. This is a significantly lower burden of proof compared to common personal injury cases which require the defendant’s actions to be the proven, predominant cause.
  • Comparative Negligence Rules – FELA has a modified comparative fault system which allows for compensation even if the employee was partially responsible through their own negligence. For example, if the worker fails to wear a provided respirator, they can still recover damages if the railroad violated safety statutes.
  • No Predetermined Compensation Limits – Unlike workers’ compensation systems which cap payout categories, FELA cases have no limits, allowing workers to claim full economic and non-economic damages. This allows greater recovery for medical bills, lost income, reduced life expectancy, and pain/suffering.

Potential damages railroad workers diagnosed with mesothelioma due to employer negligence may be able to pursue include:

  • Medical expenses from hospital treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
  • Income loss from being too ill to work plus diminished earning capacity.
  • Cost of additional medical monitoring and home health aides.
  • Physical and mental anguish of suffering from an aggressive terminal cancer.

By assigning liability under FELA, mesothelioma victims can hold railroads accountable for unsafe working conditions and force meaningful safety improvements for current and future workers. Those diagnosed should immediately contact a qualified FELA attorney to understand their legal options. Timeliness is critical as statutes of limitations still apply.

Suffered an Illness or Injury While Working for an Alabama Railroad? Contact Burge and Burge for Assistance

If you or a loved one worked for an Alabama railroad and have since been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another illness related to asbestos exposure, contact Birmingham-based Burge and Burge, PC for strong legal help. With decades of experience assisting injured railroad employees, we can analyze your work history and fully assess whether you qualify for FELA compensation. Call our office today at 205-947-2962 for a free, no-obligation consultation and case assessment.

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