Jury Returns $5 Million Verdict in Railroad Asbestosis Wrongful Death Claim

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A jury in Norfolk, Virginia returned the multi-million dollar verdict in a case brought on behalf of a former Lambert's Point Railroad Employee

The jury determined that Norfolk Southern failed to provide Stephen Fowlkes a safe workplace and awarded damages accordingly.

Following a six-day trial, a jury in the Norfolk Circuit Court returned a $5 million verdict in favor of a former Norfolk Southern Lambert's Point car repair worker who developed asbestosis and died from disease complications in 2017. The verdict was entered in Danielle M. Caraco v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company, Civil No. CL17-11250. Caraco is the administratrix of the Estate of Stephen F. Fowlkes, the deceased car repair worker.

Mr. Fowlkes' estate filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern. The Complaint alleged that the company was aware of the hazards associated with asbestos-containing brake shoes and other asbestos-containing insulation at Lambert’s Point, but never provided Fowlkes with any warnings and never did any air tests during his career. The case was presided over by Judge Jerrauld Jones.

Stephen Fowlkes worked at Norfolk Southern's Lambert's Point car repair shop between 1979 and 1990 often servicing and changing out asbestos-containing brake shoes at the shop. In 1988, Norfolk Southern hired abatement contractors to remove asbestos from the car shop. Once Fowlkes became critically ill and was in hospice care, he suspected asbestos caused his lung disease. After he passed away, his daughter obtained an autopsy that revealed asbestos in his lung tissue.

Norfolk Southern responded to the Complaint by claiming Fowlkes never suffered asbestosis. Instead, he must have developed pulmonary fibrosis from an unknown cause or that his long-term cigarette smoking caused his lung disease. Norfolk Southern also argued that there was little-to-no risk of developing asbestosis from the railroad brake shoe dust.

The attorneys representing the Fowlkes' estate, Randy E. Appleton & Richard N. Shapiro, offered evidence from two pathologists who found asbestos in Fowlkes' lung tissue. Though, a pathologist retained by the railroad claimed there was none.

“The jury determined that Norfolk Southern failed to provide Stephen Fowlkes a safe workplace, and NS knew before he was even hired about the dangers of asbestos in the railroad brake shoes, but they chose not to warn the carmen at any time during the 1980’s," said Randy Appleton. "He had no chance to protect himself; he didn’t even know the dangers when he was doing this work.”

The jury found that cigarette smoke was a major contribution to Fowlkes' death by assessing 80 percent contributory negligence on Fowlkes. This means the jury verdict was reduced to a $1 million net verdict for Fowlkes' estate.

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Richard N. Shapiro
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