A jury has awarded $7.5 million to an Edwardsville man who developed leukemia after years of handling creosote soaked railroad ties for Chicago & North Western Railway.
They deliberated for about four hours on Thursday afternoon before ruling in favor of James Brown. Brown’s attorney, David Damick, had filed the suit six years ago against Union Pacific Railroad, for whom Brown worked for 13 years. Most of the exposure and alleged negligence, though, happened during the 18 years that Brown worked for Union Pacific’s predecessor, Chicago & North Western Railway.
“We’re here today because the railroad exposed James Brown to poison,” Damick said in his closing arguments. “Not occasionally, but repeatedly over a period of 18 years.”
CNW knew about the dangers of creosote and benzene exposure as early as 1986 when they received a notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they needed to comply with certain safety regulations in order to continue using creosote.
Damick referred to a memo from CNW’s safety director “saying this is what they needed to do to comply.”
But the company failed to do so, and did not provide employees with adequate protective equipment such as boots, gloves, respirators and goggles, he said.
Brown began working as a laborer for CNW in 1976, frequently loading and unloading creosote-soaked railroad ties.
Earlier in the week-long trial, Brown testified that he often returned home from work covered from head to toe in wet creosote.
In the summer of 2008, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS. That developed into acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. Several medical experts testified that even the slightest exposure to creosote, benzene and carbolineum can cause AML.
Several medical experts who testified for the defense found that Brown had not been exposed to those toxins in sufficient amounts to cause AML.
One expert testified that in 90 percent of AML cases, doctors don’t know what caused it.
Attorney William Lamson also disputed Brown’s contention that as many as three times a week he returned from work covered from head to toe with creosote.
“I’ve never met a nicer man, never met a nicer family,” Lamson said of Brown. “But I’m asking you to put that aside and make your decision based on the evidence and not that he is a nice man. I’m going to ask you to leave this court and not award him any money.”
Damick referred to defense experts as “merchants of doubt” who flourished charts and statistics in front of jurors in a “dog and pony show” designed to minimize Union Pacific’s culpability.
But Damick said Brown’s radiation treatment had caused him to develop cataracts. The disease had also left him with bad legs and feet, fatigue, memory loss, weight gain from his medication, and impotence.
Late Thursday, jurors announced they were awarding Brown:
• $3 million for past and future medical expenses;
• $1.5 million for disability experienced, and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future;
• $1.3 million for loss of normal life experienced, and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future;
• $1 million for pain and suffering;
• $700,000 for lost earnings, and the present cash value of earnings reasonably certain to be lost in the future.