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If you become ill at work, and because it is a part of your job, is your employer liable for your medical bills?

This is a tough question to answer, particularly if the illness is not a workers’ compensation claim. But it happened to a Texas man who claims he got West Nile virus because of his company’s negligence.

William Nami worked for a railroad company in Texas. He and his crew were in charge of clearing areas around the rail lines, and replacing and repairing railroad tracks. They worked in an area that is described as a prime breeding ground for mosquitos.

The areas in which the crew worked were full of tall grasses, and after a heavy rain or storm, there were always standing puddles of water. The mosquitoes were relentless, according to the men who worked there.

Add to that the fact that the equipment they used and the trucks they drove were not well-maintained. According to Nami, there were holes in the floorboard and the trucks’ doors did not shut tightly. He says that he and his crew were exposed to swarms of mosquitoes every day.

He reported the problems to his supervisor at Union Pacific Railroad, where he had worked for 32 years, to no avail. The problems were never addressed by the company. Nami says they never repaired the vehicles, mowed the tall grasses or provide bug spray.

One morning his daughter found him slumped over on his bed unable to get up. She rushed him to a hospital where he was finally diagnosed with West Nile virus, an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes.

Nami sued the railroad under the 1908 Federal Employers’ Liability Act. He claimed the company was negligent for not providing him a safe working environment.

In a jury trial, the company was found liable and Nami was awarded more than $700-thousand in damages.

The Supreme Court of Texas, however, overturned the verdict stating in part, that the company could not be held responsible for the actions of mosquitoes.

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