Court Discusses the Discovery Rule in Personal Injury Cases in Massachusetts

In any instance in which a person suffers bodily harm due to the negligence of another, they have the right to pursue claims for damages. It is critical, however, to pursue any claims in a timely manner; otherwise, the right to recover compensation may be waived. In some cases, however, the statute of limitations may be extended by the discovery rule if the injured party did not know the cause of his or her injury at the time the injury occurred. Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts discussed the discovery rule in a case in which the plaintiff alleged he suffered harm due to his employer’s violations of federal law. If you suffered harm due to another party’s carelessness, you should speak with a trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding what claims you may be able to pursue.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff filed a lawsuit naming his former employer as a defendant and alleging personal injury arising out of negligence and the failure to comply with the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA). The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the applicable statute of limitations barred the plaintiff’s claims. The court found that the discovery rule operated to extend the statutory period, and denied the defendant’s motion.

The Discovery Rule

FELA specifically provides that any lawsuit alleging violations of FELA must be instituted within three years of the date the cause of action accrued. When a plaintiff’s harm was not caused by a discrete, discernible accident, but is the result of continuous exposure to harmful conditions over time, courts apply the discovery rule to assess when the cause of action accrues. The discovery rule will not extend the statute of limitations endlessly, however. Instead, the statute of limitations will begin to run when the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know, both that he or she is injured and the cause of his or her injury.

Applying the discovery rule generally requires issues of fact, and in most cases, the fact finder will determine whether the discovery rule applies. For instance, the fact finder typically must evaluate when the plaintiff first had notice of the cause of his or her injury. In the subject case, the plaintiff was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in January 2015. The court noted that the plaintiff stated he did not discuss the cause of his injury prior to his surgery in May 2015. The defendant disagreed, however, arguing that the plaintiff should have discovered the cause of his injury at an earlier date. Thus, the court found that a factual dispute existed as to when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the cause of his injury, which was an issue that should be resolved at trial.

Speak with a Skillful Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered harm due to someone else’s failure to comply with the law, it is in your best interest to speak with a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your options for seeking compensation. At the Law Office of James K. Meehan, our trusted personal injury attorneys have the experience and knowledge needed to provide you with a strong chance of a successful result, and we will advocate tirelessly on your behalf.  We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or through the online form to set up a confidential and free conference.