Plaintiff’s FELA Claim Against Railroad Survives Limitations Challenge

MONTANA — The plaintiff worked for Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Corporation (BNSF) and claimed exposure to amphibole containing vermiculite in that capacity as BNSF transported vermiculite for W.R. Grace. The plaintiff filed suit against BNSF for his asbestos related disease under FELA. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant and the plaintiff appealed.

Prior to the suit, W.R. Grace filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. A temporary restraining order (TRO) was immediately issued prohibiting any suits against third parties arising from W.R. Grace’s mining operations. The court entered a preliminary injunction in 2001, which stayed all actions pending or not filed. Years later, W.R. Grace moved to enlarge the language of the injunction to include claims arising from its mining operations, e.g., those against BNSF. The motion was granted in 2008. The instant suit was filed against the state and wood product defendants in 2010. The District Court granted summary judgment, stating the plaintiff’s claims accrued on October 22, 2007 and were therefore barred by the statute of limitations.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the time for filing should be tolled because of the earlier injunction staying his claims against BNSF. On the other hand, BNSF argued that the stay only suspended claims against it for mining operations and did not stay the filing of new claims. Reviewing the language of the injunction, the court disagreed with BNSF. Specifically, the court noted that the term “commencement” of new actions had been included in the expansion of the injunction. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s claim was within the three FELA statute of limitations.

Read the full decision here.