How long do I have to file my case? Am I too late to file a claim with OSHA? Does my initial charge letter and the denial of my appeal give me different filing dates?
Every week I get these questions from railroad workers looking to sue their carrier. So here are not only the answers, but also a calculator so you can figure it out for yourself.
First, your injury claim must be filed within three years of when you knew or should have known that you had a work-related injury. In most instances, that means the date you got hurt. But there are other times where the beginning date might get fuzzy.
Is it a cumulative trauma case, like hearing loss, worn out knees or carpal tunnel syndrome? Maybe it is asbestos-related, so you only learned of it later. Or maybe you didn’t know you had an injury until you went to the doctor for that nagging pain and then you realized that the fall you had at work actually caused damage. Figuring out that earliest possible date is critical to avoiding the court kicking you out for not meeting the statute of limitations for a FELA case.
Next, you only have 180 days from any adverse action to file a claim with the Department of Labor under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. Don’t assume six months. It is 180 days.
And each step along the way becomes a different trigger.
Taken out of service? Charged? Brought to hearing? Disciplined? Appeal denied? Each of those starts a different 180-day clock ticking. But don’t wait to file based on the last incident. You want to file as early as possible to catch as many of them as possible. Although there is no court decision saying so, each step of the discipline process is a different form of retaliation, called an adverse action in the statute, and can give rise to a separate claim.
Finally, once you have filed with Department of Labor, OSHA has 210 days to finish their investigation. As of day 211 you can file suit in federal court.
As you will see from the date calculator, I have tried to list each item separately. But relying solely on this spreadsheet is dangerous. Only after speaking with someone who knows the right questions to ask you can you feel comfortable knowing your deadlines.
But don't wait until the last minute.
The lawyer you’re thinking of hiring might be in trial. There might be additional information or documents needed. The lawyer might even be on vacation. Or, you might get turned down just because you haven't given the lawyer time to get the case filed appropriately.
Download this spreadsheet, How to Figure Your Drop Dead Dates for Filing a Railroad Lawsuit, to help you manage all your trigger events. And then go talk to an experienced FELA attorney (that’s a railroad injury lawyer) and/or an experienced railroad whistleblower lawyer.
Photo by Marc Wietzke