Court Upholds $7.5 Million Verdict Against CSX and Denies Appeal for New Trial

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NC Court of Appeals finds no error in Scotland County FELA verdict against CSX. Jury awarded $7.5 million to retired employee who died during the appeals process. The employee died of mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos while working at the railyard.

This week the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a $7.5 million verdict in favor of retired CSX railroad employee, Ray Williams. (Case No. COA05-488) After the trial and while the verdict was on appeal, Williams died of mesothelioma at the age of 61 in June 2005. Williams worked for CSX for nearly 40 years before retiring in 1999. He was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2002. The only proven cause of mesothelioma among workers in the United States is exposure to asbestos.

A Scotland County jury returned the verdict for Williams in October 2004. CSX filed an appeal in January 2005. Williams died a few months later. His wife, Shirley Williams, the executrix of his estate continued with the case. (Shirley T. Williams and Raymond W. Williams vs. CSX Transportation, Inc.)

Williams filed the suit against CSX Transportation because the railroad regularly exposed him to asbestos and asbestos containing materials at work and failed to warn him about the dangers of exposure. Railroad workers do not receive workers’ compensation, and in order to recover for injuries they must file a lawsuit against their railroad employer under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) and prove the railroad’s negligence caused their injuries.

The jury found that CSX was aware of the dangers of asbestos dust beginning in the 1930s and further was also aware of precautions that could be taken to protect railroad workers from asbestos dust, but chose not to protect or warn their employees for nearly 40 years -- until sometime in the late 1980s. The jury further found that the railroad knew asbestos could cause lung cancer in the late 1950s and mesothelioma in the early 1960s, but again chose not to take any measures to protect its employees or warn them about asbestos. CSX continued to use asbestos containing products into the 1990s.

Two years into his retirement, Williams was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma and underwent a radical surgery to remove his entire left lung. Due to complications from the surgery, Williams required a second surgery to remove his stomach that had migrated into his chest cavity. He underwent three separate courses of chemotherapy, but the cancer metastasized into his lymph nodes.

Experts acknowledge that more than 94 percent of malignant pleural mesotheliomas in men are caused by occupational asbestos exposure. CSX denied that Williams was exposed to asbestos during his employment and also denied that his mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure. Rejecting CSX’s denial of responsibility, the jury found CSX negligent and liable for Williams’ mesothelioma.

After the verdict, the defendant filed motions to overturn the verdict and for a new trial. Scotland County Judge B. Craig Ellis denied the motions. The defendant appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Forest Horne, one of the attorneys at the Raleigh law firm Martin & Jones who represented Williams and his wife, explained that the unanimous decision from the Court of Appeals speaks volumes about how juries and the courts will hold corporations who knowingly expose their employees to cancer causing substances accountable.

In the Court of Appeals’ opinion issued Tuesday, Chief Judge John C. Martin wrote that by “denying the motion for a new trial, the trial court found the amount of damages awarded by the jury was justified by the evidence” and the appellate court found no error in the decision.

Forest Horne and Spencer Parris of Martin & Jones represented Williams. Frank J. Gordon of Millberg, Gordon, Stewart, P.L.L.C., and Randall A. Jordan and Mary Helen Moses, of Jordan & Moses represented CSX.

Contact:    

Spencer Parris

Forest Horne

Martin & Jones

410 Glenwood Ave., Suite 200

Raleigh, NC 27603

919.821.0005/1.800.662.1234

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Donna Elliott
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