Toxic encephalopathy is a form of permanent brain damage characterized by short-term memory loss, depression, anxiety and diminished mental functioning. According to internal documents, railroad industry doctors have known about neurological and other disorders involving workers and exposure to solvents since the mid-1960s. CSX, the nation’s largest railroad company in the east, has acknowledged settling 466 solvent exposure claims, with many more pending claims. The company has paid $35 million in awards to current or former workers diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy, though it continues to deny the existence of evidence linking solvents and brain damage to this day.
Independent medical specialists have continued to link solvent exposure to brain damage affecting hundreds of railroad workers. The dozens of studies that have shown evidence of chronic neurological deficits after high levels of solvent exposure continues to support the diagnoses of railroad workers now suffering brain damage. Used heavily in the 1960s, the use of chemical solvents has been phased out by nearly every major railroad, though lawsuits have alleged the companies delayed this action for years despite knowledge of the dangers.
Many doctors predict potentially thousands of railroad workers are suffering toxic encephalopathy and lesser degrees of brain damage that have gone undiagnosed. For years, the debate over the link between industrial solvents and toxic encephalopathy has been present in the medical, legal, industrial and personal settings. CSX alone has been the target of over 600 solvent lawsuits and claims.
In the early 1990s, a University of Cincinnati physician was asked by CSX to look at CSX workers that had been diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy and had claims against the company. When the doctor performed an independent medical evaluation and concluded the workers were in fact suffering from solvent-related brain damage, CSX never sent the doctor any more patients. CSX has continued to use a particular neurologist to defend the company in railroad litigation, claiming only a neurologist such as he could qualify to diagnose toxic encephalopathy, a claim argued by other medical experts.
According to a Boston University School of Medicine professor of neurology, pharmacology and environmental health, there are relatively few doctors across the nation that can be considered experts in the field. To be able to properly diagnose toxic encephalopathy, the professor believes doctors must have a specialized knowledge of the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as toxicology, epidemiology and occupational medicine in order to understand the complexities of the brain damage.
Workers are still coming forward with symptoms of brain damage because of high levels of solvent exposure during the 1960s until the 1990s. Despite the banned use of trichloroethyelene, 1,1,1-trichlorethane and perchloroethylene by CSX and other major railroads, some experts believe the railroad workers may represent one of the nation’s largest solvent exposed populations while at the workplace. While FELA has allowed monetary payouts for pain and suffering, workers sometimes have to wait years to collect if the employer fights back and can end up losing compensation in its entirety.
For more information on FELA laws, as well as toxic encephalopathy, please contact us to confer with an expert FELA attorney.