Summary Judgment Affirmed For Railroad After Plaintiff Settles and Files Subsequent Suit for Lung Cancer

PENNSYLVANIA — The plaintiff filed a claim for Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) against Conrail for the development of alleged asbestosis in 1997. The parties settled in 2004 and executed an agreement that contemplated a release for “all known and unknown…injuries for any and all forms of cancer…” Years later, the plaintiff developed lung cancer and filed suit alleging the injury was a result of exposure to asbestos for which Conrail was liable. Conrail moved for summary judgment arguing that the claim was barred by the prior settlement. The court granted Conrail’s motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff took the position that the release was invalid under FELA as the scope of the settlement did not contemplate claims for malignancy. In short, the plaintiff argued that the court should have applied the standard in Babbitt where the test calls for a release only on known claims for specific injuries. However, Conrail countered and pointed out that the court already had followed the standard in Wicker which found that a FELA release is valid provided the “scope of the release is limited to those risks which are known” at the time of execution. The court agreed with Conrail. The Wicker standard is “highly fact intensive” and from this matter it was clear that Plaintiff did not to rebut Conrail’s position that the language of the release included claims for malignancy. Moreover, nothing was put forth by the plaintiff that he did not understand the risks of cancer from the alleged exposure when he signed the agreement.

Accordingly, summary judgment was affirmed in favor of the defendant.

Read the full decision here.