Four former railroad workers filed a federal lawsuit this month against BNSF Railway Co., claiming they developed respiratory problems as a result of the company’s alleged negligence.
Wavie Cole, Francisco Ruiz, Carl Canada and Cleophas Eckford seek a total of $10 million -- $2.5 million each -- from their former employer.
They all assert that the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) governs their claims because their employment duties “were in furtherance of and did closely, directly and substantially affect interstate commerce,” which BNSF engaged in as “a common carrier by rail.”
Each plaintiff contends his duties for BNSF exposed him “to toxic substances including asbestos, diesel exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke, welding fumes, silica, and other toxic dusts, gases and fumes which caused him to suffer permanent injuries to his lungs in the nature of asbestosis and other respiratory disease.”
The complaint includes four FELA counts -- one for each plaintiff – and asserts that BNSF failed to provide them with a reasonably safe work place or warn them of the hazardous nature of asbestos and other toxic substances.
Among other claims, the suit also accuses the railroad company of failing to inspect equipment to determine if there was contamination and take adequate steps to reduce employees’ exposure to toxic substances.
BNSF’s negligence, the suit asserts, caused “in whole or in part” the plaintiffs to develop asbestosis and other respiratory diseases.
As a result, each plaintiff claims he “has suffered and will continue to suffer great pain and disability, genuine and serious mental anguish and extreme nervousness as a result of his reasonable concern over the prospects of developing cancer caused by his exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke, welding fumes, silica and other toxic dusts, gases and fumes.”
The plaintiffs also claim they have and will continue to incur “great expense in endeavoring to be cured” of their illnesses and diseases and have “lost and will continue to lose large amounts of income because of” the disabilities of their respiratory problems.
According to the complaint, Cole was employed by BNSF from 1977 to 2010, Ruiz from 1974 and 2009, Canada from 1973 to 2006 and Eckford from 1972 and 1999. Cole was a pipefitter and the other three worked in the “carman craft” while Canada also worked as a laborer and electrician.
Belleville attorney William Gavin filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.