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Railroad Injury Blog

Part 3 - the FELA Statute of Limitations for Occupational or Repetitive Injury Claims

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

In the first two parts of this series, we learned what the statute of limitations is, and how it is applied when you have a traumatic injury at work, such as a broken bone. But not all railroad injuries occur at an identifiable time and place. Some injuries may take years to develop, such as osteoarthritis caused by poor walking conditions and bad ergonomics, or cancer caused by exposures to toxic chemicals.

Railroaders frequently suffer from a multitude of injuries that are brought about over time, not in a single traumatic event. Asbestos illnesses, various cancers, injuries caused by the vibration of the locomotive, and hearing loss, all develop over long periods of time.

In these scenarios, which we call occupational injury, or repetitive injury cases, when does the three year statute of limitations start? The federal courts have adopted something called the "discovery rule." This rule has two parts. The three-year statute of limitations begins when (1) the injury or illness first becomes known to the employee; and (2) the employee knew or should have known that the injury or illness was caused by their job with the railroad.

In order for the statute of limitations to begin - both of these conditions must occur. Thus, if you have cancer, but have no reason to suspect it was because of your railroad employment, the three-year statute of limitations has not begun. Likewise, if you fear that because of all the walking on ballast you do, you might in the future contract osteoarthritis, the three-year statute of limitations has not begun.

Importantly, the three year period does not begin from the date of the employee's initial exposure to whatever caused the injury or illness, such as toxic fumes or exhaust. That is because at the initial exposure, no injury or illness has resulted yet.

The statute of limitations also allows railroad employees to bring their claims even after they have retired. An injury such as cancer may not develop for years after retirement, and so the statute of limitations cannot begin until the injury or illness becomes known to the employee. And regardless of the date of diagnosis, the three-year statute of limitations does not start until the employee knows or should know that their injury or illness was caused by their work for the railroad. So, the date an employee retires really is not a factor in whether they may still bring their claim.

The statute of limitations is complicated, and injured railroaders should not delay in contacting an experienced railroad attorney after any diagnosis of an injury or illness at work that they suspect might be work-related.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

Part 2 - The FELA Statute of Limitations for Injury Claims

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

In the first part, we learned that the statute of limitations for an FELA claim is three years. Well, three years from what? When you suffer a traumatic injury at work with the railroad, you have three years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit against the railroad.

What do we mean by traumatic injury? This is an injury that takes place in a single identifiable event, as opposed to over a long period of time. The best example is probably a broken bone - it's usually clear when the bone broke, and what caused it. Other examples may include an injury resulting from slip or fall, an injury that results from a switch malfunction, or an injury results from a train derailment. So, the three-year period to file your lawsuit essentially begins the moment you are injured.

Injured railroaders should not delay in contacting an experienced railroad attorney after an injury at work, and the statute of limitations is one important reason why. In the last part of this series, we’ll examine how the statute of limitations is different for occupational or repetitive injury claims.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

The FELA Statute of Limitations Part 1 – What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) contains a three-year statute of limitations. But what is a statute of limitations? It is a law that sets the time limit for filing a lawsuit. If an FELA lawsuit is not filed within the three years (what is sometimes called the “limitations period”), it is likely that the court will dismiss the lawsuit, and the employee will receive no compensation. Importantly, what has to be done within the three-year limitations period is the actual filing of a written complaint with the court. Merely notifying the railroad of an injury is not enough. Engaging in settlement discussions is not enough. A formal legal complaint must be filed with the court.

In certain situations, which are very uncommon, a court may extend the time for filing a lawsuit. This is known as “tolling.” For example, tolling may occur if the railroad has intimidated the employee into not filing a lawsuit, or if the injured railroad worker becomes mentally incapacitated. Whether the time period can be extended depends greatly on the facts of the particular case. The best course of action is to assume that the statute of limitations for an FELA case will be no longer than three years.

The purpose of a statute of limitations is primarily to protect defendants, in this case railroads. The law presumes that after a certain amount of time, a party should no longer have to worry about past claims. But another purpose of the law protects both parties - the deterioration and loss of evidence. As time passes, memories fade and documents get lost or thrown away. Bringing a claim timely benefits both parties by making the best evidence available to them both.

Injured railroaders should not delay in contacting an experienced railroad attorney after an injury at work, and the statute of limitations is one important reason why. In the next two parts of this series, we'll examine how the statute of limitations is different in an injury claim, versus and occupational or repetitive injury claim.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

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