A West Virginia court recently dealt a devastating blow to a railroad worker who devoted 30 years of his life to East Coast railway giant CSX Transportation. The man had suffered severe back pain beginning in the 1980s, which he and his doctors demonstrated was caused by the countless hours the man spent on CSX trains. Regardless of the nature or the source of the injury, the state Supreme Court ruled the railroad worker should have sued his employer earlier.

Back-breaking work

In this case, there was ample evidence that the inadequate support in the CSX caboose and locomotive seats, on which the worker had spent over a quarter of a century sitting, played a major role in his injuries. When trains rolled over rough patches of track, his back felt every tremor of impact, which left him with displacement and slipping of vertebrae. While the man first sought medical care in 1985, and received treatment regularly from 2001 to 2007, he didn’t file a suit against CSX until 2010.

Beware of the statute of limitations for FELA claims

Based on the chronology of this man’s injury, the time at which he first sought treatment, and the point at which various conditions were diagnosed, the Court determined that his claims were barred by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) statute of limitations, which refers to the span of time the law sets for filing lawsuits. Under FELA, which covers railroad workers’ job-related injuries, an employee must bring suit three years from the date of injury.

When injuries result from a single accident, it’s easy to figure out the critical date from which the three years begin. It’s more difficult to make this calculation when injuries are produced by ongoing conditions that may last for years and even decades, as was the case in the recent West Virginia lawsuit. Further complicating matters, in certain cases there may be claims under state law and/or federal, law with each one carrying a different statute of limitations.

A clear lesson

While claim agents may encourage a wait-and-see attitude with regard to FELA claims, railroad workers postpone at their own peril. If there is any doubt as to the ultimate danger of delay, one need only recall the unfortunate position in which the West Virginia railroad worker found himself.

Injured railroad workers should waste no time seeking medical and legal assistance when work brings unexpected aches, pains, and serious injuries.