The FELA lawyers of Yaeger & Jungbauer Barristers, PLC invite you to contact their office for further discussion of this topic. This article is designed for general information only and should be considered neither formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer client relationship.




They sound boring but are extremely important.

It seems so simple: a statute of limitations sets a time limit on filing a lawsuit for a claim. Virtually all claims, be they discrimination cases, real estate disputes, will contests or personal injury cases, have a statute of limitations. If you do not file a lawsuit or settle the particular claim within the prescribed period, the law extinguishes your rights and you lose any opportunity to pursue the matter in court.

However, statutes of limitations in general, and those governing personal injury claims in particular, can be much more complicated than they appear on the surface.

Under the FELA, the law governing on-the-job injuries of railroad workers, the statute of limitations is three years from the injury. In the case of a single traumatic incident, say a back injury resulting from a poorly maintained switch, it is easy to determine when the statute of limitation expires. If the injury occurs on December 15, 2001, then the victim must file a lawsuit, or settle the claim, no later than December 15, 2004. Note that when a lawsuit is filed, the statute of limitations ends and the case continues until it is resolved through either trial or settlement.

If the defective switch is on industry property another statute of limitations, covering the industry under state law, may also be involved. The injured railroader would then have two claims, one governed by the FELA and one covered by state law. For example, in Illinois there is a two-year statute of limitations in such claims, meaning that the claimant must file a lawsuit against the industry within that two-year period. In California, the statute of limitations is only one year. A year can go by very quickly after an injury, so it is important to be aware of these different periods.

Not all injuries are the result of a single incident like a switch case. A railroad worker could contract an industrial disease such as asbestosis or develop carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive work. These problems develop over a period of weeks, months, or years, and may not manifest themselves for a long time. The three-year statute of limitations in these cases begins on the date when the employee knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that the problem was related to railroad work. Determining the statute of limitations in such cases can be much more complicated than in a simple, straightforward switch case, and often requires a careful review of medical records.

Some railroad employees feel it is okay to wait nearly the full three years under the FELA before talking settlement about their claim. Claim agents often encourage this because they know that delay helps the railroads and hurts the claimants. As time passes, memories fade, critical evidence may be lost or destroyed, and important witnesses may not be readily accessible. Claim agents know that as the statute of limitations looms, the claimant’s judgment may be impaired and the claim may settle for far less than it is worth. In addition, waiting until the near the end of statute of limitations makes it more difficult for a lawyer to properly investigate the case and file it in time.

It is important to pursue your claim as soon as possible to protect your rights and the value of your claim. YJB can provide a free consultation about your claim, including an analysis of the applicable statutes of limitations to determine the statutory period and evaluate whether an attorney is needed to handle the claim or not.