Railroad boilermaker dies of Mesothelioma from asbestos in repair shop. $6.95 million. Alameda County.


Railroad worker is exposed to asbestos in railroad repair shops long after asbestos protection for workers is mandated.

The Case

  • Case Name: Karen Emerson v. Union Pacific Railroad Company
  • Court and Case Number: Alameda County Superior Court / RG13698637
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, November 18, 2015
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
  • Type of Case: Asbestos, FELA, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Brad Seligman
  • Plaintiffs:
    Karen Emerson
  • Defendants:
    Union Pacific Railroad Company
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $6,951,265
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    100% to Union Pacific.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:


  • Punitive Damages:

    Not available under FELA.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 7 hours.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, PLC by Joe Satterley, Ryan Harris and Denise Abrams, Oakland.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Hawkins, Parnell, Thackston, and Young by Tracy Cowan.

    Union Pacific Law Department by Michael Johnson.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    William Salyer, M.D., pathology, Oakland.

    Jerrold Abraham, M.D., pathology, Syracuse, NY.

    Ronald Dodson, microscopy, Tyler, TX.

    Barry Horn, M.D., pulmonology, Berkeley.

    David Egilman, M.D., occupational medicine, Attleboro, MA.

    Gregory Yang, M.D., oncology, Yuma, AZ. (Treating physician).


  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Larry Luikonen, Fred Boelter, and Morton Corn, industrial hygiene.

    Brent Finley, toxicology.

    Paul Endres, M.D., pathology.

    Alan Legasto, M.D., radiology.

    David Weill, M.D., pulmonology..

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    From 1971 to 1995, decedent Jeffrey Emerson worked as a boilermaker at the Southern Pacific Railroad (with which Union Pacific merged in 1997). 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.

    In July 2013, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, malignant mesothelioma. For the next seven months, his treating doctors provided care and treatment. He died on January 24, 2014, just 10 days after he was deposed.

    The case proceeded on the merits under the Federal Employers Liability Act, which governs claims for railroad-workplace injuries.


  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That 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. That this exposure caused decedent's mesothelioma, pain, suffering and wrongful death.

    Discovery revealed that Southern Pacific, for more than 20 years, had used many different types of asbestos products, including in its diesel locomotives and in piping around its facilities.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    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.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Extensive suffering of decedent during his seven-month 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.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $7,400,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $2,100,000

Additional Notes

The road to trial was paved with several procedural battles and delays including two successive (but unsuccessful) motions to transfer venue, a failed defense motion to stay discovery, and Union Pacific’s challenge for cause of the trial judge that was ultimately denied by the California Supreme Court.

Prior to trial, Union Pacific claimed immunity from suit 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. 

Other named defendants settled prior to trial for confidential sums.