Chacon v. Union Pacific RailroadAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit against Union Pacific under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), alleging that he developed a sarcoma as a result of his exposure to diesel fumes and other carcinogenic substances while working as a diesel mechanic for Union Pacific (and for a predecessor, Southern Pacific) for 31 years. Plaintiff previously filed suit against Union Pacific for damages arising from an unrelated 2007 accident and the parties settled that case in 2010. As part of the settlement, plaintiff executed a release of all claims arising from his employment, including any claims concerning exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes.
The Court of Appeal held that the "bright line" rule in Babbitt v. Norfolk & W. Ry. (6th Cir. 1997) 104 F.3d 89, best conforms to the governing statute and to the United States Supreme Court opinions interpreting it. Under the rule, which the court partially adopted, a release of a FELA claim is valid only to the extent that it applies to a "bargained-for settlement of a known claim for a specific injury." In this case, plaintiff's settlement of claims from an accident in 2007 did not validly release claims in 2018 for alleged exposure to carcinogenic substances. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that the release at issue here purported to extend to future claims unrelated to the particular injury that plaintiff previously settled. To that extent, the court held that the release is invalid.