After a six-week trial, an Alameda County, California jury returned a mesothelioma verdict which found Union Pacific Railroad Company responsible for the suffering and wrongful death of Jeffrey Emerson, who worked as a boilermaker at the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1971 to 1995. The company merged with Union Pacific in 1997. (Emerson v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., Alameda County Superior Court, Case No. RG-13698637)
Mr. Emerson was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in July 2013 and under medical care and treatment for the next seven months prior to his death on January 24, 2014, just 10 days after he completed his deposition for the case.
Mr. Emerson was regularly exposed to asbestos at Southern Pacific’s Sacramento Locomotive Shops, both directly in his job and as a bystander to the work of other craftsmen. Discovery in the case revealed that for more than 20 years Southern Pacific had used many different types of asbestos products, including in its diesel locomotives and in piping around its facilities. Southern Pacific did not comply with the regulatory requirements regarding asbestos for at least 15 years. Instead it allowed workers to be exposed to asbestos without proper protection throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1980s that Southern Pacific began to implement some asbestos safety procedures.
Prior to trial, Union Pacific claimed immunity from the mesothelioma lawsuit based on a prior release of claims for an unrelated back injury. The trial court denied this defense, ruling that Mr. Emerson’s release of back-injury claims cannot be construed as waiving future claims for asbestos-disease injuries. The case proceeded on the merits under the Federal Employers Liability Act, which governs claims for railroad-workplace injuries.
Mesothelioma Verdict Discovery
At trial, Union Pacific argued that Mr. Emerson died not from asbestos-caused mesothelioma but from lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking (which Mr. Emerson quit in the early 1980s). Alternatively, Union Pacific argued that, if Mr. Emerson did have mesothelioma, it was caused not by asbestos exposure at Southern Pacific but by earlier exposures in the Navy. According to court documents, Union Pacific’s argument that Mr. Emerson was not exposed at the railroad was undercut by an internal company record, obtained by Kazan Law in discovery, admitting that Mr. Emerson was extensively exposed there.
Karen Emerson, Mr. Emerson’s wife, testified about the extensive suffering her husband endured during his battle with mesothelioma. He was treated at the Mayo Clinic with both chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation. Post-death tissue analysis revealed extensive asbestos fibers in his lung tissue.
Mesothelioma Verdict Amount
The jury rejected each of Union Pacific’s defenses, found that Mr. Emerson indeed suffered from mesothelioma, and awarded $6,500,000 in pain and suffering damages in the mesothelioma lawsuit. The court had already determined that Mr. Emerson’s economic damages totaled $451,265. The total verdict is $6,951,265.00.
The Emerson family was represented by Kazan Law partners Joseph Satterley, Justin Bosl, Denise Abrams and Ted Pelletier, and associate Ryan Harris.