Release Agreement in Prior Claim Does Not Bar Future FELA Claim

Plaintiff Roger Lee Hindle was a railroad employee who developed lung cancer and brought a suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that his exposure to asbestos caused him to develop the condition. The plaintiff had previously brought a claim against the same railroad defendants for hearing loss; in settling the previous claim, he signed a Release Agreement discharging them from any and all losses, known or unknown, including cancer. The railroad defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that this release barred the claim for lung cancer. Although parties can settle existing controversies without violating FELA’s provision stating that any contract enabling a common carrier to exempt itself from liability is void, the validity of these releases are less clear when the settlement waives rights to litigate future related claims. The court stated: “A release of future claims may be valid under FELA, provided that (1) it was executed for valid consideration as part of a settlement, and (2) the scope is limited to risks known to the parties at the time they sign.” Since the plaintiffs dispute their understanding of the scope of the claims waived in the Release Agreement, a genuine issue of material fact was present, and summary judgment was denied.

The court, however, ruled against plaintiff Mrs. Mary Lou Hindle’s loss of consortium claim, since there is no recovery for a derivative loss of consortium claim in a FELA action.

Read the full decision here.