In FELA, the statute of limitations is found in Section 56. The general rule is that in a FELA case, you have three years from the date of accident in which to file your lawsuit. If you do not file a lawsuit by the time that the statute of limitations expires, your lawsuit will probably be dismissed and you will not receive any compensation for your injuries.
With most type of accidents, it is very clear when the statute of limitations begins to run. The general rule is that the statute of limitations begins to run when the harm occurs. For example, if you break your leg in a fall in a rail yard that does not provide a safe walking surface, then the statute of limitations begins to run the day of your fall and expires three years later.
In some situations, it is more difficult to determine when the statute of limitations begins to run. For example, assume that you are exposed to a harmful substance (such as asbestos, creosote, or diesel exhaust) that eventually causes you to become ill. The harm began to occur when you were exposed to the harmful substance. However, in that case, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the harm manifests itself, that is, until you actually become sick and until you discover what caused you to become sick. However, once you begin to experience the harm or illness, the law places an obligation on the injured or ill railroader to investigate whether there is a connection between his employment and the injury or illness.
Another situation that creates a tricky situation with the statute of limitations is where you suffer a work-related injury, but the injury does not occur at one time; it is the result of being exposed to one dangerous situation over and over for a period of time. Repetitive trauma injuries, injuries that result from small amounts of harm being done to the body over and over, are an example of this. Common types of repetitive trauma injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, hearing loss, back and spine injuries, joint injuries, and certain types of illnesses. In this situation, where there is a continuing violation of FELA by the railroad, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the last day you are exposed to the dangerous condition.
If you have any concerns about the statute of limitations expiring — and please understand that claims agents do not have to give you real advice about when the statute of limitations will expire — you should contact an experienced Chicago FELA lawyer to represent yoru interests immediately.