A former conductor is suing BNSF Railway Co., alleging he was forced to work without the protection of a face mask in a 2017 sandstorm and to walk for miles amid hazardous waste fields because he was denied access to a car, resulting in permanent health problems that have left him unable to work.
John Francis Molitor’s suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court because BNSF does business in the county. The negligence suit filed Monday seeks unspecified damages.
A BNSF representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
According to his court papers, Molitor was working as the conductor for a BNSF train near Daggett, in San Bernardino County, on April 24, 2017. He had been tasked with moving the train from the Barstow Yard to a siding at Nebo, then separate the locomotives and take them to Needles.
Due to the track configuration in the area, the train had to proceed in reverse between Daggett and Nebo, then continue into the siding until the full length of the train was off the main line. As the conductor, Molitor had to be present at the rear end of the train to observe and protect the move while it was operating in reverse for about eight miles, his suit states.
BNSF management knew that weather conditions in the area included high winds and major desert sandstorms called “haboobs,” which pick up dust and propel it as high as a mile in the air and violently into the face of unprotected individuals, the suit alleges.
Molitor alleges he asked for a face mask from his supervisors, but was told to go ahead with his assignment without any protection. Molitor also request a vehicle in which he could ride with shelter while observing the train’s move, but his bosses once again denied his request, the suit alleges.
The car at the back of the set was not safe for riding, so Molitor had to walk the entire length of the train’s move on foot during a haboob, according to his court papers.
The area also consists of numerous hazardous waste facilities where human sewage is deposited on the surface of fields and allowed to decompose naturally, the suit states.
“As the result, plaintiff’s lungs and body were assaulted over an extended period of time with wind-blown dust, hazardous materials and sewage waste that was picked up and propelled in the haboob conditions,” according to the complaint.
Molitor suffered damage to his lungs and immune system and also sustained neurologic impairment due to poisoning by sewage and hazardous waste, the suit states.
Molitor has lost income and employment benefits, is permanently and totally disabled from all types of employment, and will continue to need significant heath care, according to his court papers.