IRENE MURPHY, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF ALTON MURPHY, DECEASED APPELLANT
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY APPELLEE
FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CV-16-111]
HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.
Offices of Patrick S. O'Brien, LLC, by: Patrick S.
O'Brien; and McKissic & Associates, PLLC, by: Gene S.
McKissic, Sr., for appellant.
Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP, by: Martin A. Kasten, for
M. GLOVER, JUDGE.
Murphy filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Jefferson
County, alleging that Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union
Pacific) negligently failed to protect her husband, Alton
Murphy, from exposure to toxic chemicals during his
employment with the railroad. The complaint alleged that the
railroad's negligence caused Mr. Murphy to develop
multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer, leading to his
death in 2014. Union Pacific filed a motion for summary
judgment, arguing that Mr. and Mrs. Murphy previously
released the railroad from any further liability for toxic
exposure as part of a negotiated settlement of another claim
for a lung injury in 2007. The circuit court agreed and
granted Union Pacific's motion.
now appeals the judgment, arguing that it should be reversed
because the prior release is void under section 5 of the
Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), which prohibits
contracts that enable railroads "to exempt [themselves]
from any liability[.]" 45 U.S.C § 55. According to
Irene, the release is void under FELA because it goes beyond
the injury and risk of future injury that were known to her
and Mr. Murphy at the time they negotiated the release.
Facts and Procedural History
Murphy worked for Union Pacific for thirty years. He worked
as a manual laborer, then as a machine operator, before his
retirement in 2002. In 2006, Mr. Murphy pursued a claim
against the railroad, presumably alleging that his exposure
to toxic substances during his employment caused him to
suffer from pneumoconiosis, a lung disease that caused him
shortness of breath. The claim apparently never went to suit.
Mr. Murphy and Irene settled the claim with Union Pacific in
2007. In exchange for $20, 000 the Murphys both signed a
release that, in pertinent part, provided as follows:
3. "Occupational Exposures," as used herein, shall
mean and include any and all exposures to which Alton Murphy
was exposed as an employee of Union Pacific. Occupational
Exposures includes any and all exposures by any method,
including exposures by breathing, touching, ingesting, or
otherwise. Occupational Exposures includes any and all
exposures to toxic materials, metals, or chemicals, including
without limitation asbestos, dusts, fumes, vapors, smells,
gases, fuels, combustion products and by-products, exhausts,
solvents, cleaners, benzene, vinyl chloride, toluene,
pesticides, herbicides, weed defoliants, lubricants, paints,
paint thinners, silica and/or any other cancer causing
agents, whether alleged or not alleged, caused by or
contributed by or in any way the legal responsibility of
1.Alton Murphy filed a claim against Union Pacific seeking
compensation as a result of Alton Murphy's alleged
diseases . . . from Occupational Exposures while he was
employed by Union Pacific.
2.Union Pacific, without in any way admitting liability with
reference to the claim asserted by Murphy, desire[s] to reach
full and final compromise of all claims arising from Alton
Murphy's alleged injury from Occupational Exposures,
including any cancers, lung-related diseases and/or death,
while Alton Murphy was employed by Union Pacific.
3.Murphy desires to reach full and final compromise of all
claims asserted against Union Pacific in the ...