Jury Returns Verdict for Decedent, Finding Asbestosis Resulted from Railroad Brake Work

VIRGINIA – A jury in Norfolk Circuit Court issued a $5 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff Danielle Caraco (plaintiff) on behalf of the decedent Stephen Fowlkes (decedent), finding that the decedent had been diagnosed with asbestosis as a result of his exposure to asbestos-containing railroad brakes during his employment at Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk).

The decedent had worked as a repair man who changed out asbestos-containing railroad car brake shoes for a decade during the 1980s. Once the decedent fell ill and was in hospice, he suspected asbestos exposure contributed to his lung disease. The plaintiff claims an autopsy revealed the presence of asbestos in the decedent’s lung tissue. Norfolk, however, argued that the decedent suffered from pulmonary fibrosis with an unknown cause, and that the decedent’s long-term cigarette-smoking habit caused his lung disease.

Although the jury found that smoking was a major contribution to the decedent’s death, attributing to him 80 percent contributory negligence, the jury also found that Norfolk failed to provide the decedent a safe workplace, knew about the hazards of asbestos, and failed to provide proper warnings to the decedent as to the potential hazards of asbestos.