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West Virginia Supreme Court Argues for Broad FELA Release Protection

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  • West Virginia Supreme Court Argues for Broad FELA Release Protection

    The West Virginia Supreme Court reinstated a FELA mesothelioma wrongful death claim of a railroad engineer’s widow, Freda Ratliff, in a 5-0 decision handed down on March 12, 2009 (Ratliff v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co, Civil Action No. 05-C-423). This decision reversed a summary judgment ruling in favor of Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and has been viewed as a major new precedent on the law of releases presented to railraod workers-involving injuries or diseases.

    The Court ruled that a “separation agreement” (job buyout) release of all claims, known and unknown, that train engineer Ratliff signed 19 years before developing mesothelioma cancer, was void and essentially illegal under a provision of the FELA, section 55, which prohibits railroad efforts to exempt itself from liability. Ratliff’s attorney, Richard N. Shapiro offered that “on behalf of the Ratliff estate and family, we are grateful that the Supreme Court agreed with our position, that a separation agreement release could not bar a mesothelioma FELA claim, when the disease was first diagnosed 19 years after Mr. Ratliff’s retirement. This terrible asbestos cancer cut short Mr. Ratliff’s golden years, and in a horrible way at that.”

    The Court reasoned that imposing a heightened standard upon a release signed in the context of a voluntary separation program is needed with the purposes of the FELA. Such a heightened standard would also afford employees greater protection of their FELA rights.

    This West Virginia decision is an excellent clarification of the law pertaining to the scope of allowable FELA railroad releases in both injury/disease claim settlements, as well as in disputes arising from a separation agreement release.
    Freda Ratliff was represented at the trial court, and on brief, by Richard N. Shapiro, of Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton, of Va. Beach, VA.

    About Us: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton FELA/Railroad Injury Attorneys have authored hundreds of railroad and FELA articles on our main website, and have over 100 years combined injury law experience. Firm attorneys included among “The Best Lawyers in America” 2010 Edition and the law firm has the highest rating (AV) granted by Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating service.

  • #2
    excellent development!
    sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae


    • #3
      Congratulations on your victory!
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