FELA suit filed against Conrail

By Steve Gonzalez | Dec 7, 2006

Carroll Fritts filed a Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) suit against Consolidated Rail Corporation (CONRAIL) and American Premier Underwriters.

Fritts claims that from 1953 until 1996, he was an employee of CONRAIL as a hostler, fireman and engineer and worked around tracks, shops, roundhouses and yards including the yard in East St. Louis.

According to the suit filed Nov. 17 in St. Clair County Circuit Court, Fritts was exposed to asbestos dust or fibers, silica dust or coal dust.

"Plaintiff was unaware of the dangerous propensities of asbestos dust or fibers, silica dust or coal dust," the complaint states.

Fritts claims his exposure caused him to contract an asbestos-caused disease.

"Plaintiff neither knew of nor should have known of his injuries more than three years from the date of this filing of this lawsuit," the complaint states.

He claims the defendants knew, or should have known that he would be exposed to asbestos dust or fibers and those exposures were dangerous, toxic and potentially deadly.

Passed by the U.S. Congress in 1908, FELA was designed to protect and compensate railroaders who sustained injuries while working. Unlike state worker's compensation law, FELA requires the injured worker to prove that the railroad was "legally negligent," at least in part, in causing an injury.

Under FELA, injured workers can seek compensation for wage losses past and future, medical expenses and treatments, pain and suffering, and for partial or permanent disability. If an employee dies, survivors are entitled to recover damages which they have suffered because of the death.

After proving negligence, the injured worker is entitled to full compensation, which is usually many times greater than that provided by state worker's compensation benefits for non-railroaders which provide benefits on a no-fault basis

FELA allows a claim to be brought in federal or state court, whichever better suits the employee's convenience or purpose. The case may be filed in any city into which a railroad passes, or even where the railroad has no tracks but has a business office.

Fritts claims despite that knowledge, CONRAIL failed to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work, failed to provide him with safe and suitable tools and equipment including protective masks, failed to warn of the true dangers of asbestos products, silica or coal and failed to operate the locomotive repair facility in a safe and reasonable manner.

He also claims the defendants allowed unsafe practices to become standard practices, failed to test materials before allowing employees to work with them, failed to provide safe and proper ventilation systems and required employees to work with ultra-hazardous products and materials.

Fritts further claims CONRAIL failed to advise him to shower before going home, failed to provide showers, failed to advise him to have his clothing and belongings cleaned outside of the home and failed to provide a separate locker for clothing worn home to prevent clothes from being contaminated.

According to Fritts, he has suffered great pain, extreme nervousness and mental anguish and believes his illness is permanent in nature and that he will be forced to suffer from the same the remainder of his life.

"Plaintiff, who was a strong and able-bodied man, has sustained a loss of earning capacity and his ability to render services, society, affection, counseling and support to his family has been diminished, his life expectancy has been shortened and his enjoyment of life has been impaired," the complaint states.

He also claims he also is now highly susceptible to future injuries and diseases, including various types of cancer.

Fritts is seeking damages in excess of $150,000 for violations of FELA, the Federal Boiler Inspection Act and the Federal Safety Appliance Act.

He is represented by William Gavin of Belleville, John Conley, Seward Lawler and Kip Harbinson of Norfolk, Va. and Willard Moody of Portsmouth, Va.

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