Native Sun News interview with Roven-Kaplan, LLP
MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2012 − The following story was written and reported by Kate Saltzstein, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.
Four Navajo, or Diné, men who were employed by BNSF Railway’s predecessor, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, during the mid-20th century, have filed a lawsuit against the company in the wake of recent health diagnoses they say are directly linked to unsafe working conditions. PHOTO COURTESY TODAY-SCIENCE.COM
LOS LUNAS, NEW MEXICO –– Four Navajo, or Diné, men have filed a lawsuit against Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway (formerly the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway) saying the railroad company failed to provide adequate safety measures to protect them from respiratory illnesses.
The men, who worked for the railroad in the 1940s and 1960s, charge that there was a lack of ventilation in closed cabs and that they were exposed to coal dust, ballast and asbestos fibers while doing physical labor. The former workers – Andrew Ashley, Jimmy Bowman, Jack Gilmore and Hoskie Yonnie – from reservation towns in Arizona and New Mexico have been diagnosed with lung disease. Attorney John Roven, who filed the lawsuit in New Mexico last month, said the men did not file suit earlier because their health problems only became apparent in recent years.
“Like all dust-related occupational diseases, the very hallmark of silicosis/pneumoconiosis (lung disease caused by dust inhalation) is a long latency period. Neither X-ray abnormalities nor shortness of breath typically manifest for many years following exposure,” he said in an email.
Roven was out of the country at the time this story was reported and unavailable for an in-person interview. An interview was therefore conducted with him via email correspondence.
“The men worked with ballast rock that contained a high percentage of quartz, which will produce fibroneic reaction (disease from fibers) in the lungs,” said Roven. “Ballast is the rock that underlies the railroad tracks. They dumped (rocks). They used jackhammers and worked the rock manually and with heavy track machinery. These were not enclosed nor air-filtered at the time. The hallmark symptom of those affected by these conditions is dyspnea (shortness of breath), chronic cough in some cases. It depends on the severity and on individual susceptibility.”
Asked if railroad officials knew that conditions were unsafe at the time, Roven said, “We contend that they did. The railroad began supplying breathing protection such as paper masks in the mid-1980s. This is a classic example of closing the barn door after the cow has left. For these men, by then the damaging exposures had already occurred. Current safety procedures have improved, but that’s of little comfort to these men.”
Roven has represented other people, including women who have been adversely affected by working conditions on the railroad. “I have represented women who swept the roundhouses and acquired asbestosis (a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos fibers) from working around steam locomotives.”
Monetary damages for the workers can be considered under the Federal Employers Liability Act, he said.
Roven encourages anyone affected by similar problems while working on the railroad to call his law firm, Roven-Kaplan LLP of Houston, Texas, at (713) 465-8522. He also has enlisted the help of Ann Spencer, a Navajo-speaking assistant, to answer phone calls from Navajo speakers at (928) 313-0287.
Asked his reaction to the lawsuit, Joseph Faust, director of public affairs for BNSF Railway, said, “These claims filed are primarily from employees who worked for predecessor railroads many years ago. BNSF is currently reviewing the case and will respond through the legal process.”
4 Diné file suit against railroad due to illness
By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times
WINDOW ROCK, March 15th, 2012
Four Navajos, all former workers for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, have filed a lawsuit claiming that the company failed to protect them from dangerous work conditions.
All four, who have been diagnosed with lung disease, claim their illness was caused by their exposure to unhealthy conditions on the job which damaged their lungs and respiratory systems.
The four plaintiffs in the case are Andrew Ashley of Houck, Jimmy Bowman of Window Rock, Jack Gilmore of St. Michaels and Hoskie Yonnie of Yah-Ta-Hey.
All four worked for years as trackmen and track machine operators for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which is now part of BNSF.
The suit claims that the four had to work under unhealthy conditions, including exposure to toxic ballast rock, gravel, coal dust and fibers, all of which caused them to contract occupational lung diseases.
Over the past century, thousands of Navajos have worked for the railroad, helping to lay track and then later in other areas.
Gilmore said he began working for the railroad in 1943, followed by Yonnie in 1947, Ashley in 1968 and Bowman in 1969. All of them claim that as part of their working conditions, they had to work in areas where they were exposed to materials that were not healthy.
All four said they were unaware of the potential health problems that they could encounter by working with these toxic materials.
John Roven, who along with Los Lunas, N.M., law firm of Michael Sanchez and Cindy Mercer, said BNSF has to accept their role in causing these employees to suffer from their current health problems.
"While helping lay miles of railroad tracks in New Mexico and Arizona, these men worked with tools, heavy equipment and machinery that stirred up tremendous amounts of toxic particles and dust," he said.
"BNSF failed to provide ventilation, warnings and protection that constitutes a safe work environment. We believed the polluted dust, dusty and unhealthy conditions have impaired their enjoyment of life as well as their earning capacity and interfered with their right to a healthy retirement," he added.
Navajos who worked for the railroads basically had two jobs, he said, laying track or they would be promoted to be a machine operator.
Machine operators worked in cabs without ventilation or any kind of respiratory equipment spending their entire days breathing a cloud of dust, Roven said.
It wasn't until the 1980s, he said, that the railroad spent the money to provide ventilation and air conditioning and then, a decade or so later, respiratory devices to protect the workers.
Source: Navajo Times
BNSF Railway Sued for Wrongful Death from Asbestos Exposure in New Mexico
Home » Press Releases » BNSF Railway Sued for Wrongful Death from Asbestos Exposure in New Mexico; Estate of Former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Worker Seeks Damages
February 15, 2012 − by John David − in Litigation − No Comments
LOS LUNAS, N.M. – Feb. 15, 2012 – Last week, the estate of a former New Mexico railroad employee sued BNSF Railway alleging wrongful death, due to asbestos exposure, of locomotive repair shop worker Santiago Riley. During 13 years of employment from 1942-1955 at railroad facilities in New Mexico and Arizona, Riley made locomotive repairs, performed various shop duties and swept floors around dusty asbestos-containing substances without any respiratory protection.
This exposure caused permanent injury and contributed to his eventual death, according to the lawsuit filed by his children. The estate seeks damages for mental and physical suffering, lost wages, medical bills and other financial losses.
BNSF Railway was created in 1995 from the merger of Burlington Northern Inc. (parent company of Burlington Northern Railroad) and Santa Fe Pacific Corporation (parent company of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway). In 2010, BNSF became a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (NYSE: BRK.A).
According to the Riley family’s attorney, John D. Roven, many railroad employees were required to work with toxic materials like asbestos without warnings, and asbestos was widely used on locomotives as insulation during the time of Riley’s employment.
“The medical and safety departments at the former AT&SF Railway knew or should have known about the hazardous conditions to which they were subjecting Riley and many others,” said Roven. “Today, we are asking a jury to hold the Railroad accountable for those choices.”
According to the National Institute of Health, asbestosis, the lung disease from which Riley suffered, occurs from breathing asbestos fibers. Severity of illness depends on how long the person was exposed and the amount inhaled. Often, people do not notice shortness of breath for 25 years or more after exposure, and malignant mesothelioma can develop many decades after exposure ends.
The estate of Santiago Riley is represented in Los Lunas, N.M. by the Law Offices of Michael Sanchez and by Roven-Kaplan, LLP in Houston. For further information about this or other railroad injury cases, call 1-800-997-1505 or visit www.rovenlaw.com. A copy of the Riley lawsuit is available for download here. Source: www.lawsuitpressrelease.com.
Navajos Sue BNSF Railway After Contracting Lung Disease
WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ., March 9, 2012 – Four former railroad workers, all suffering from diagnosed cases of lung disease, recently filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway alleging exposure to dusty work conditions which resulted in damage to their lungs and respiratory systems. Navajo Nation members Andrew Ashley of Houck, Ariz., Jimmy Bowman of Window Rock, Ariz., Jack Gilmore of St. Michaels, Ariz., and Hoskie Yonnie of Ya-Ta-Hey, N.M., labored as trackmen and track machine operators for the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (now part of BNSF). The lawsuit, filed by Roven-Kaplan, LLP, states that exposure to toxic ballast rock, gravel, coal dust and fibers caused the men to contract occupational lung diseases.
“While helping lay miles of railroad tracks in New Mexico and Arizona, these men worked with tools, heavy equipment and machinery that stirred-up tremendous amounts of toxic particles and dust,” said attorney John D. Roven. “BNSF failed to provide ventilation, warnings and protection that constitute a safe work environment. We believe the polluted, dusty and unhealthy conditions have impaired their enjoyment of life as well as their earning capacity and interfered with their right to a healthy retirement.”
Gilmore and Yonnie began working for the railroad in the 1940s while Ashley and Bowman were employed beginning in the late 1960s. According to Roven, thousands of men, including many Navajos, were exposed to similar conditions as the railroads were constructed and repaired throughout the Southwest.
“The effects of harsh labor conditions on a worker’s lungs and respiratory system often go unnoticed until years later,” said Roven. “Symptoms of occupational lung diseases such as shortness of breath, chest pain, chest tightness and abnormal breathing patterns frequently resemble other medical conditions.”
The victims are represented in Los Lunas, N.M. by the Law Offices of Michael Sanchez and by Roven-Kaplan, LLP in Houston. For further information about this or other railroad injury cases, call 1-800-997-1505 or visit www.rovenlaw.com. A copy of the Navajo lawsuit, filed in federal court in Gallup, N.M., is available for download at www.lawsuitpressrelease.com.