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KNM Secures Defense Verdict for Class 1 Railroad in Toxic Exposure Cancer Lawsuit

On Behalf of | Sep 20, 2021 | Firm News

After a five-day trial, jurors needed only a few minutes to return a defense verdict for BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) in a lawsuit in which a former employee claimed that exposure to toxic substances caused her lung cancer. Chad Knight and Erik Nelson of Knight Nicastro MacKay, LLC represented BNSF at trial.

The Plaintiff, Scott Olson, presented this lawsuit as the Personal Representative for the Estate of Cathy Jo Bettisworth. Mrs. Bettisworth worked for BNSF as a hostler in its Alliance, Nebraska yard for 33 years. In December of 2014, she died of lung cancer and her PR filed this lawsuit under the Federal Employers Liability Act alleging that her cancer was caused by exposure to diesel exhaust. The jury disagreed and found that BNSF was not negligent. During the trial, several former railroad employees testified about how BN and later BNSF focused heavily on occupational safety for its employees. The company used work practices, procedures and even safety devices to ensure that locomotives were operating properly and never running indoors.

BNSF’s Director for Industrial Hygiene Don Cleveland, who has worked at the company for 30 years, testified about the various occupational safety programs implemented throughout the years and the plethora of air monitoring BN and BNSF conducted, including at the yard where Mrs. Bettisworth worked. His testimony was joined with Larry Liukonen who previously worked for BN as the railroad industry’s first industrial hygienist in 1979. 

Finally, Dr. Peter Shields, an oncologist who has studied occupational exposures and their effect on cancer for over 30 years explained to the jury how Mrs. Bettisworth’s lung cancer was not caused by exposure to diesel exhaust but rather by cigarette smoking.

The lawsuit was filed and tried on behalf of the Plaintiff by attorneys from Marc J. Bern & Partners.