You have three years to file suit under FELA for your injuries sustained as a railroad worker.
FELA Case Time Limits
The common issue for many workers injured in a railroad or carrier accident is how much? However, we try and focus them on how long? What we mean by this is that victims are understandably concerned with whether or not they can win and if so how much money they can obtain through a lawsuit.
Yet, before answering these questions, we try and steer our clients to a more fundamental issue: statutes of limitations. These are laws that prevent plaintiffs from bringing cases if they wait too long. Therefore, we normally first ask when did the incident occur before or right after asking what happened. In this way, we hope to protect typical causes of action from going stale and losing any chance of recovery.
Why Do We Have Statutes Of Limitations To Pursue A FELA Lawsuit?
If your case is ever barred due to statutes of limitations, then you might obviously be frustrated and question their entire scheme. Why do they even exist? Don’t they just serve to protect defendants? The general rationale for statutes of limitations is twofold. First, they want to goad you into filing a suit earlier because it is harder to try older cases. Evidence can be lost. Witnesses can forget things. Defendants can disappear.
Second, there is a belief that for many violations people should be able to live without the fear of litigation after a certain span of time. The hesitancy that impending litigation brings does breed productivity and courts and governments try to remove that where possible. Thus, for different kinds of civil torts and criminal actions, there are various time windows within statutes of limitations by which you must bring your case.
How Long Do I Have For My FELA Case?
If you have been injured on the job as a railroad worker or common carrier employee, then your right to a cause of action stems from the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, FELA for short. Within section 56 of FELA, the law provides a three-year time limit as seen in the statute:
“No action shall be maintained under this chapter unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued.” 45 U.S. Code § 56”
From the language, the rule is typically that you have three years from when the railroad accident happened. However, there might be an exception to this rule of thumb. If you did not reasonably understand that you were injured from the incident (due to latent personal injuries or disability for instances) then you might be afforded more time to file your case. However, you must use reasonable diligence and speed in discovering your injuries. To learn more about FELA case time limits in Illinois and other states, contact one of our Illinois FELA attorneys and we can explain exactly how much time you have.
How Is This Different From Other Cases In Illinois?
Generally, if you file suit for personal injuries in Illinois, then you have two years from when the cause of action accrued to file your case as seen below in 735 ILCS 5/13-202:
“Actions for damages for an injury to the person, or for false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution, or for a statutory penalty, or for abduction, or for seduction, or for criminal conversation that may proceed pursuant to subsection (a) of Section 7.1 of the Criminal Conversation Abolition Act, except damages resulting from first degree murder or the commission of a Class X felony and the perpetrator thereof is convicted of such crime, shall be commenced within 2 years next after thecause of action accrued…”
Accrual is a term with special legal meaning. It means the moment when liability arose and the wronged party could then have taken subsequent action to collect damages. In other words, when the plaintiff was hurt or realized that he or she was hurt and from that time onward could have filed a case.
If you are suing for property damage (for instance, if any personal items such as watches were destroyed in the railroad accident), then you have five years to sue the wrongful party as 735 ILCS 5/13-205 provides:
“Five year limitation. Except as provided in Section 2-725 of the "Uniform Commercial Code", approved July 31, 1961, as amended, and Section 11-13 of "The Illinois Public Aid Code", approved April 11, 1967, as amended, actions on unwritten contracts, expressed or implied, or on awards of arbitration, or to recover damages for an injury done to property, real or personal, or to recoverthe possession of personal property or damages for thedetention or conversion thereof, and all civil actions not otherwise provided for, shall be commenced within 5 years next after the cause of action accrued.”
Illinois has a special caveat for its time limits within the field of civil litigation known as fraudulent concealment. The rule here is that if the wrongful party conceals the cause or nature of the injury, then the wronged party has additional time to file the lawsuit. If there is fraudulent concealment, then the law in Illinois is that the plaintiff has five years from when he or she realized the cause of action existed to begin the case as 735 ILCS 5/13-215 states:
“If a person liable to an action fraudulently conceals thecause of such action from the knowledge of the person entitled thereto, the action may be commenced at any time within 5 years after the person entitled to bring thesame discovers that he or she has such cause of action, and not afterwards.”
Trying to master all of these laws and rules can be overwhelming. They overlap and are extremely convoluted. If you shoot us an email or give us a call, we can explain the various intricacies between state cases and federal, FELA cases as well as outline when you should file a case, what you must do for the case, and what you could possibly obtain in a case.
What If I Don’t Get My FELA Case In On Time?
As you can see from the foregoing sections, the legislature puts strong incentives on plaintiffs to file as early as possible including for FELA cases. They are trying to preserve the court’s resources and make it easier to try suits. However, this gives victims a smaller window than they otherwise would have had to bring a claim for their damages. Also, if they fail to get it in within that window, then they are forever barred from recovering for that incident which led to their railroad and other injuries. There are no exceptions to the applicable time period. This can create a sense of anxiety and urgency in the minds of affected railroad workers but our firm can help. We specialize in securing recovery for injured victims including railroad workers and can work to draft a sufficient and timely lawsuit. Let us take all of the worry out of the process. Contact us today.
Concerned You Might Be Out Of Time For Your FELA Case?
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can take all appropriate actions necessary to ensure your FELA lawsuit is filed on time. Plus, we can represent you on contingency so you can focus on getting back to work instead of paying bills. To hear more about we can guarantee you get the service that you need, call Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers today.
To learn more about FELA claims, please read the following articles: