ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The family of a man who died last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against BNSF Railway saying asbestos exposure 60 years ago led to his death.
According to the family's attorney, Santiago Riley, 86, died in March 2011 from respiratory failure and asbestosis, a condition created by continued exposure to asbestos. In their lawsuit the family alleges BNSF is to blame to failing to provide a safe work place.
Riley worked for BNSF predecessor Santa Fe Railway between 1942 and 1955 as a shop laborer. Part of that time was spent at the rail yard in Belen, some of it at a rail yard in Winslow, Ariz.
According to attorney John Roven of Houston, Riley's job was to assist in the roundhouse where steam and later diesel locomotives were serviced. That job involved sweeping up asbestos removed from the locomotives and other areas.
During that time period Roven says asbestos was actually ground up in hoppers and baked to be recycled.
Rovan described Riley was a healthy man until 2010 when he suddenly began suffering from severe shortness of breath. He was later diagnosed with asbestosis and died with in about a year and a half.
"Like most people our parents and grandparents he had never given it a thought, never considered work he had done 50 years before could result in symptoms he was experiencing at the end of his life, but there you have it that is the tragic story of asbestos," Rovan said.
While some may argue that at 86 years Riley lived longer than most people, Riley's family finds his age of death immaterial.
"We don't write people off saying you have lived long enough." Rovan continued. "I think the fact that he lived to 86 was a testimony that he was a healthy individual who took care of himself, he never smoked, he took care of his body.
"It's easy for someone to criticize someone wanting justice at the age of 86 until it's a member of your family."
News 13 asked BNSF for a response to the lawsuit and received a statement from spokesman Joe Faust.
"The lawsuit alleges work practices beginning in World War II and allegedly continuing into the 1950s," the statement said. "While BNSF intends to vigorously defend against these sixty year old allegations, it is clear that the allegations say nothing at all about the modern BNSF or its practices over the past several decades."
The family is seeking damages for loss and suffering. A jury would ultimately decide if BNSF should be held responsible and if so how much the railroad will pay Riley's family.
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