Workers' Compensation Proceeding Finds Link Between Diesel Fume Exposure and Cancer

The widow of a bus mechanic who died from lung cancer won a landmark legal victory linking her husband’s disease to 28 years of diesel exhaust exposure while working in a Metropolitan Transit Authority garage. In August 2014, Workers Compensation Judge Jay Leibowitz awarded widow Dorota Nigro the maximum amount allowable for husband Anthony’s work-related injuries: $773 a week plus $100,000 retroactive to Mr. Nigro’s death, and $6000 in funeral expenses. The workers compensation proceeding involved a battle between occupational exposure experts about whether diesel fumes were a “significant contributing factor” to Mr. Nigro’s cancer. The judge found that they were.

Ms. Nigro’s attorney believes there is no other legal precedent establishing a link between diesel emissions and cancer. But this health issue has received greater scientific attention in recent years. In June 2012, the World Health Organization elevated its classification linking diesel engine exhaust and cancer, stating that diesel engine exhaust is a known carcinogen – from a prior classification that diesel engine exhaust was a probable carcinogen. In March 2012, a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute determined that underground miners exposed to diesel engine emissions were at increased risk of death from lung cancer.

While the EPA states that diesel exhaust contributes to the human health risk, it does not regulate diesel exhaust as a carcinogen (like asbestos), so diesel exhaust-based claims against manufacturers have been less successful when products met Clean Air Act standards. For example, Ms. Nigro had previously brought a claim against diesel engine makers that was dismissed by a court of appeals. This is where the workers compensation system can fill in the gaps. A workers’ compensation claim can provide prompt medical attention and weekly benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries and to families of those employees. Contacting an experienced RI work comp lawyer will help you determine whether you have a claim.