What is a Statute of Limitations? Why Is It Important for Railroad Workers to Know?
If you are injured while working for the railroad, you have a limited amount of time to resolve your injury claim. This time limit is known as a “statute of limitations.” If you do not file a lawsuit or settle your claim before the statute of limitations expires, your claim will be forever barred and you will be unable to recover any compensation. Accordingly, it is extremely important that you know what statute of limitations applies so that you can make sure any claim is filed before the deadline runs.
If you are injured while working for a railroad, your personal injury claim against your employer will be governed by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) and you will have three years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit. In many instances, it is easy to determine when an injury occurred. If you trip and fall at work and break your ankle, you will have three years from the date of that incident to file a lawsuit against your employer unless it is fully settled before that date. In other situations, it is less clear. For example, if you develop carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of doing repetitive, forceful, heaving, and/or awkward work over time, determining when that injury occurred is more complicated. Is it when you first noticed symptoms? Is it when you first associated those symptoms with your job duties? Is it when a doctor first diagnoses you with carpal tunnel? Or is it another date entirely? There is no single answer to the question because it depends on the unique facts of every individual case. Courts generally find that the statute of limitations begins to run when you know that you have an injury and that the injury may have been caused by work activities. You may have a duty to ask your doctor if work caused or contributed to your condition. Even if it is partly related to work and non-work activities, you may still have a claim worth pursuing. Accordingly, if you believe you have sustained an on-duty injury at work, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your claim and help you understand when a lawsuit will need to be on file.
You should also be aware that claims against persons or entities other than your railroad employer may have different statutes of limitations. For example, if you are injured in a crossing collision, you may also have a claim against the company employing the driver of the truck that caused the collision. That claim is not governed by the FELA and may have a shorter or longer statute of limitations, depending on where the incident occurred. Some states have a limitations period of only one year! Similarly, if you are injured while working for the railroad on property owned by another industry, you may have a claim to file against the owner of the property where you were injured, in addition to the railroad. Such a claim against the industry is not covered by the FELA and may have a shorter or longer statute of limitations.
Accordingly, if you believe someone other than the railroad is partly responsible for an injury you sustain, it is very important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your claim and help you understand when a lawsuit will need to be on file.
In our Railroad Injury e-newsletter exclusively covering railroad-related topics, attorneys from Schlichter Bogard & Denton’s nationally recognized team discuss, among other things, railroad workers’ rights, federal railroad laws, recent rulings impacting railroad workers, and firm news. Click here to subscribe.