Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Death changes but may not end Pittsburgh asbestos litigation

Plaintiffs in Pittsburgh liability cases sometimes die before a court or courts come to final legal decisions. Asbestos injuries often aren't discovered until a victim's lung cancer or other asbestos-related condition is life-threatening. While a claim changes upon a plaintiff's death, the pursuit of damages does not have to stop.

The estate of the deceased can proceed with a wrongful death action on behalf of the original plaintiff's heirs.

Three years have passed since the first ruling on a lung cancer claim against CSX railroad. Another appeal could alter an appellate court's order to pay a railroad switchman's estate $8.6 million, although it's not certain whether the defendant will take the case to the state Supreme Court.

The first decision on the case was made in 2010 by a jury who concluded CSX neglected the employee's safety by exposing the switchman repeatedly to poisonous fumes, chemicals, radiation and asbestos. The defendant requested and received permission for a new trial, but a Circuit Court intervened and threw out the case.

The claim moved to a state Court of Appeals. In a recent ruling, the court said, barring proof the jury erred in the verdict, the damage award should stand.

The claim was opened in 2007 by the severely ill CSX worker under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. The plaintiff was a CSX employee for 40 years, until 2002. Three years later, the man was diagnosed with lung cancer, which the complaint stated was due to constant exposure to at-work toxins.

The plaintiff died before trial, after undergoing extensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The man's surviving spouse then stepped in to the case as the decedent's representative.

The death of a plaintiff, from asbestos-related or unrelated causes, will change the way a liability case is presented and handled. The benefits of a court's decision to award damages shift from decedents to surviving spouses, children or parents.

Knoxville Daily Sun, "Appeals court decides in favor of victim's estate in railroad wrongful death case" No author given, Jan. 04, 2014

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