In a recent decision, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled on the applicability of the “discovery rule” in cases brought under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). The Appellant in this case, Larry Zapp, brought suit against his former employer, railroad giant CSX, in 2008 after he was diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome. CSX moved for summary judgment based on the fact that Mr. Zapp had retired eight (8) years earlier in 2000, and his symptoms began shortly after his retirement. The defense cited the three (3) year statute of limitation in which to bring a FELA case. Under FELA, “no action shall be maintained…unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued.” 45 U.S.C. § 56 (2006).
Summary judgment was granted by the Jefferson County Circuit Court and the matter was appealed. The Appellate Court found that while it was true that the injury had manifested itself eight years earlier (and therefore suit was filed many years after the three year SOL had expired) that the second, and perhaps most important, element of any calculation of a statute of limitation under FELA had not been taken into account by the trial court – that being when Mr. Zapp knew the cause of his injury. In Lipsteuer v. CSX Transp., Inc. 37 S.W.3d 732, 737 (Ky. 2000) a legal precedent was established that when analyzing SOL’s under FELA that the cause of the injury must be known through the exercise of “reasonable diligence.”
The Appellate Court ruled that when Mr. Zapp should have known the cause of his injury was a matter for the finder of fact (jury) to decide, therefore summary judgment was not proper at the trial level.