Under the FELA there is a three year statute of limitations that governs any potential injury claim against a railroad. This means that a claim must be resolved directly with the railroad, or a lawsuit filed in the appropriate state or federal court, within three years of the date of the injury. This time period is set in stone, and failure to settle a claim or file a lawsuit in court within this time period will forever bar an injured employee from receiving compensation for his or her injuries.
Cumulative Trauma Injuries
The FELA three year statute of limitations applies to all injury and illness claims, including cumulative trauma injury claims and occupational exposure claims. FELA jurisprudence generally states that the three year statute of limitations begins to run when the injured railroad worker knew, or should have known through the exercise of reasonable investigation that he/she sustained an injury/illness that was causally related to the railroad working environment. Importantly, some courts have held that based on the subjective knowledge “should have known” standard, experiencing symptoms of pain can start the running of the three year FELA statute of limitations – even before a doctor renders a medical diagnosis of the underlying injury.
Because these types of claims do not occur on a specific date at a specific time but instead, manifest over time due to years of repetitive trauma or exposures in the railroad work environment, determining when the three year statute of limitations time period starts and expires requires a detailed analysis of the circumstances of each individual case.