Asbestos Victims Can Sue for Stress Due to Cancer Fears

One in Seven With Asbestosis Eventually Develop Lung Cancer

WASHINGTON, DC-March 10, 2003-The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that railroad companies can be sued by sick workers who fear they might contract cancer due to asbestos exposure (Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Ayers et al.). The decision applies to railroad employees who are victims of asbestosis, a debilitating asbestos disease that causes scarring of the lungs and serious breathing problems. One in seven people who suffer from asbestosis eventually develop lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Asbestos exposure may also lead to mesothelioma, a fatal, aggressive cancer that effects respiratory function.

Norfolk Southern Corp. had challenged a $5.8 million West Virginia jury award to six retired railway workers with asbestosis. The workers claimed the railroad failed to provide them with a reasonably safe job site, and sought damages for emotional stress due to their concern about developing cancer.

"We hold that a railroad worker suffering from asbestosis can recover for the heightened anxiety he experiences because of his vulnerability to a more dread disease," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court majority, in ruling against the railroad. The decision was based on an interpretation of the Federal Employers' Liability Act, a law enacted in 1980 to protect employees who are injured due to a railroad's negligence.

"There is an undisputed relationship between exposure to asbestos sufficient to cause asbestosis, and asbestos-related cancer," Judge Ginsburg said. She rejected the railroad company's argument that fear of cancer could be included in damages only if the employee proved a likelihood of developing the disease and showed physical evidence of fear.

At Brayton Purcell, we have handled many cases involving asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer. We aggressively champion our clients' rights and our asbestos lawyers have an excellent track record of legal successes.