Attorneys Damico, Olarczuk-Smith & Sigurdson Win Appeal for Two Railroad Carriers

Oct 4, 2022 | News

On September 30, 2022, the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for two major railroad carriers in a respiratory disease case filed in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Ohio.  Plaintiff brought his action under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) alleging that the railroads negligently exposed him to diesel exhaust over the course of his career and that this exposure had caused his asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In the summary judgment motion, the railroads argued that plaintiff’s claim was time-barred because plaintiff had been repeatedly told by his treating physician, more than three years prior to filing the action, that his respiratory illnesses were caused by his alleged exposure to diesel exhaust on the railroad. The trial court agreed with the railroads and concluded that plaintiff’s action was time-barred.

On review, the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment. In reaching this determination, the appellate court rejected plaintiff’s argument that a FELA claim accrues when a treating physician conclusively tells the plaintiff that the injury is likely caused by his work because plaintiff’s argument “misconstrue[d] the essence of the discovery rule.”  Consistent with FELA jurisprudence, the appellate court reiterated that under the discovery rule, a FELA claim accrues when a reasonable person knows or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of both an injury and its potential cause.  A medical diagnosis “is not required for a plaintiff to reasonably know that his injury is possibly related to his work.” The appellate court further acknowledged that a plaintiff who has reason to suspect that his injury is work-related has an affirmative duty to diligently investigate the potential cause of the injury and that affirmative duty cannot be ignored by the plaintiff.