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ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY v. WILLIAM B. BOARDMAN

JUNE 01, 1983

ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY
v.
WILLIAM B. BOARDMAN



BEFORE PATTERSON, ROY NOBLE LEE and ROBERTSON

ROY NOBLE LEE, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

William B. Boardman filed suit in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Honorable Henry Palmer, presiding, against Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Company for personal injuries, arising under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C.A. 51, et seq. The jury returned a verdict for Boardman in the sum of $50,000, and Illinois Central Gulf has appealed here, assigning and arguing six errors in the trial below.

I.

 Did the lower court err in failing to sustain appellant's motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations?

 The basis of appellee's claim is that he sustained an injury due to work-related stress in performing his duties as an employee of the railroad company. He began work for the appellant in 1952 as an operator. In 1973, the Gulf Mobile & Ohio Railroad Company merged with Illinois Central Railroad Company, and the job of" caller-operator "was created. Appellee was given that job which involved two general functions: (1) copying train orders, and (2) telephoning personnel to make up or fill vacancies on train crews. The train orders were received from a dispatcher by radio or telephone, and Boardman's job required him to copy them for distribution to the train engineers. These orders had to be letter perfect, even down to commas and periods, since they provided the instructions for each train about destinations, speed, crossings, etc. Any error could result in an accident. The calling function of appellee's job had to be done in accordance with labor agreements, providing that personnel with the most seniority were to be called first, and then on down the line to those with less seniority. Approximately 200 employees were involved. Their names and seniority dates were kept in order by putting

 this information on wooden blocks which were in turn placed in slots on a larger board. Appellee's work station was an office equipped with three radios and five telephones, and was supposedly off limits to other personnel. There were three shifts and appellee worked the second shift, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., five days a week. Appellee's last day of work was November 13, 1977. He filed suit for damages March 20, 1980.

 45 U.S.C.A. 56 (1972) provides that no action shall be maintained under the act unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued, viz, a three-year statute of limitations. Appellant filed a plea in bar and motion to dismiss the suit, setting up the three-year statute of limitations. The lower court, Honorable Lester Williamson, presiding, partially sustained the plea in bar, holding that matters occurring prior to March 20, 1977, were barred and not admissible, but that matters occurring subsequent to March 20, 1977, were not barred and could be shown. Under that ruling the work period performed by Boardman for the basis of his complaint was March 20, 1977, to November 13, 1977.

 Two rules follow from the Federal Employers Liability Act, one applicable to traumatic injuries and a second to occupational diseases. In Fletcher v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 621 F.2d 902 (8th Cir. 1980), cert. den. 449 U.S. 1010, 101 S. Ct. 918, 66 L.Ed.2d 839 (1981), the court said:

 The FELA provides that actions for injuries to employees must be brought" within three years from the day the cause of action accrued. "45 U.S.C. 56. In cases involving traumatic injury, when the symptoms are immediately manifested so that the employee is aware of the event causing the injury, the cause of action accrues upon the occurrence of the injury, regardless of whether the full extent of the disability is known at that time. Brassard v. Boston & Main R.R., 240 F.2d 138 (1st Cir. 1957); Deer v. New York Central Ry., 202 F.2d 625 (7th Cir. 1953); Felix v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 355 F. Supp. 1107 (D. Minn. 1973). By the same token, with industrial diseases, where the symptoms are not immediately manifested, the cause of action does not accrue until the employee is aware or should be aware of his condition. Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 69 S. Ct. 1018, 93 L.Ed. 1282 (1949); Young v. Clinchfield R.R., 288 F.2d 499 (4th Cir. 1961). However, even in cases of traumatic injury, the statute of limitations is not inflexible but may

 be extended beyond three years for equitable reasons. Glus v. Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, 359 U.S. 231, 79 S. Ct. 760, 3 L.Ed.2d 770 (1959). [621 F.2d at 906].

 Appellee contends that his nervous and emotional condition resulted from stress accumulated over a period of time, and that this cause of action accrued on his last day of work, November 13, 1977, when he collapsed because of exhaustion. He further contends that his situation is similar to, or the equivalent of, an occupational disease, where the symptoms were not immediately manifested, and that the cause of action did not accrue until his condition was diagnosed after leaving the job.

 The appellant argues that appellee experienced stomach problems attributable to work stress as far back as 1970, and again in 1973; that appellee was aware of the cause regardless of whether the full extent of the problem was known; and that, under Fletcher, supra, appellee is barred from bringing suit, since the three-year period began to run at those earlier times.

 In Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 69 S. Ct. 1018, 93 L.Ed. 1232 (1949), a case involving silicosis, the court noted that when a condition develops over a period of time, it is often difficult to pinpoint when actual injury occurred. Here, appellee was handling his problem fairly well until his unexpected collapse November 20, 1977, and only at that time did he actually become aware of a disabling condition. This case is distinguished from Felix v. Burlington Northern, 355 F. Supp. 1107 (D.C. Minn. 1973), where the plaintiff Felix was involved in a specific accident by falling from a train and brought suit eight years later claiming that complications had arisen. There, the court noted that suit must be brought within the three-year period, regardless of whether the full extent of disability was known.

 In Fletcher v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., supra, the court discussed a problem similar to that ...


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