The Supreme Court of Montana ruled in favor of a long-time railway worker diagnosed with asbestos-related disease the other day, striking down an earlier decision by a lower court that had indicated that his claim was filed too late to be heard.
Kelly G. Watson worked for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) for many years, during which time he was exposed to vermiculite dust that was being mined from the W.R. Grace and Company mines and then transported by the railroad to various locations. When he was diagnosed with asbestos-related disease in October of 2007, he began filing lawsuits against those responsible for his illness, but was barred from filing a claim against his employer by an injunction that had been put in place when W.R. Grace had filed for bankruptcy protection and reorganization. It was not until 2014 that this injunction was lifted, and shortly thereafter Mr. Watson filed his lawsuit, but his old employer filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that the statute of limitations for him to file a claim was only three years, and that it had expired back in 2010.
At a hearing before the District Court, BNSF’s motion was granted, and Mr. Watson was told that he should have filed his lawsuit earlier. He filed an appeal with the state’s Supreme Court, arguing that he was prevented from having done so by the injunction that had been in place and that had subsequently been lifted. Upon reviewing the details of the case, the Supreme Court agreed, saying that the District Court had failed to acknowledge an order put in place in 2002 that had specifically included BNSF within the injunction, and another that had been put in place in 2008. The court’s decision said in part, “Approximately six months passed between October 22, 2007, when Watson’s claim against BNSF accrued, to April 11, 2008, when the Bankruptcy Court’s Injunction was expanded to include BNSF. Approximately ten months passed between February 3, 2014 when the Bankruptcy Court’s injunction was lifted until November 28, 2014 when Watson amended his complaint to include BNSF. After excluding the time that Watson was enjoined from commencing an action against BNSF, he amended his complaint to include a claim against BNSF approximately sixteen months after his claim accrued. This was well within the FELA’s three-year statute of limitations.”
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