Bridgman v. Union Pac. R.R. Co.

Decision Date07 October 2013
Docket NumberNo. DA 12–0606.,DA 12–0606.
Citation311 P.3d 416,372 Mont. 124
PartiesGene BRIDGMAN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD CO., Defendant and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court


For Appellant: Jon M. Moyers; Moyers Law P.C.; Billings, Montana.

For Appellee: J. Daniel Hoven, Sara S. Berg, Evan M.T. Thompson; Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry & Hoven; Helena, Montana.

Justice BETH BAKER delivered the Opinion of the Court.

[372 Mont. 125]¶ 1 Gene Bridgman appeals an order of the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, granting summary judgment to Union Pacific Railroad Company on Bridgman's Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) claim and denying his request for additional discovery. We address the following issues on appeal:

¶ 2 1. Whether the District Court erred in concluding as a matter of law that Bridgman's FELA claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

¶ 3 2. Whether the District Court erred in denying Bridgman's request for additional discovery pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 56(f).

¶ 4 We affirm.


¶ 5 Gene Bridgman worked in the Operating Department for Union Pacific Railroad Company from 1972 until his retirement in 2008. Bridgman worked as a locomotive engineer for much of his career, operating trains on rough tracks and getting on and off moving equipment. In 1995, Bridgman began experiencing back pain, a condition for which he sought medical treatment numerous times over the next twelve years.

¶ 6 Bridgman initially sought medical help for his back pain from his chiropractor, Dr. Judson Pierce, and his medical doctor, Dr. Thomas Hope, on November 3, 1995. He reported extreme back pain beginning a few days earlier and discussed how the injury may have occurred when he was on his hands and knees replacing a refrigerator seal. He returned to Dr. Pierce for a follow-up visit three days later.

¶ 7 Bridgman first received treatment for his leg pain on January 6, 1998, when he saw Keri Blasingame, APN, and complained of radiating pain into his right calf. She referred him to Dr. Janet Albright, who examined him two days later. Bridgman returned to Dr. Pierce twice in June of that year with complaints of low back pain.

¶ 8 Two years later, on December 14, 2000, Dr. Pierce treated Bridgman for low back pain and numbness in his left lateral calf. At this appointment, Dr. Pierce and Bridgman discussed possible causes of his injury. Dr. Pierce first observed at that time a potential relationship between Bridgman's employment and his injury, noting that Bridgman “does carry a heavy bag at times for work.” Four days later, Bridgman returned to Dr. Pierce, complaining about the pain worsening while sitting; Dr. Pierce discussed the possibility of a herniated disc and a potential referral to a medical doctor if the pain continued. In May 2001, Dr. Pierce again treated Bridgman for low back and leg pain.

¶ 9 Bridgman sought treatment from Dr. Pierce for low back pain four times over a two-month period in the fall of 2002. During the last of these appointments, on October 22, 2002, Dr. Pierce told Bridgman that a referral to a medical doctor for an MRI would be appropriate if he desired or if his pain did not improve.

¶ 10 Bridgman did not seek an MRI at that time. Four months later, he returned for two more treatments from Dr. Pierce. During the first appointment, on February 24, 2003, after Bridgman complained of low back and leg pain, Dr. Pierce referred Bridgman to a medical doctor for his leg pain.

¶ 11 On April 23, 2003, following a visit to Dr. Hope, Bridgman saw a podiatrist, Dr. Craig Karrasch, for treatment of burning pain in his left calf. Dr. Karrasch diagnosed peroneal tendonitis and bilateral plantar fasciitis, a musculoskeletal overuse syndrome, and prescribed custom orthotic devices for pain management. He also provided a letter to Union Pacific notifying it of the necessity for Bridgman to wear the orthotics while on the job. Bridgman returned to Dr. Pierce for two more treatments of his low back pain in February 2005.

¶ 12 On December 26, 2007, Bridgman sought treatment from Dr. Hope for persistent aching of his right calf. The next month, he complained of low back pain and persistent right leg pain to Dr. Pierce, who again suggested the possibility of a herniated disc. Bridgman visited Dr. Thomas Fyda for an orthopedic evaluation on January 25, 2008, at which time he complained of lower extremity pain. Dr. Fyda noted that Bridgman was “a few weeks” into the symptoms. He ordered an X–Ray, which showed a mild degenerative disc disease. Bridgman returned for another appointment with Dr. Pierce and told him Dr. Fyda had informed him that he was suffering from low back degeneration.

¶ 13 On February 22, 2008, Bridgman, on a referral from Dr. Fyda, had an orthopedic evaluation from Dr. Steve Cunningham for his low back and leg pain. During the visit, Bridgman complained of the pain worsening while sitting for long periods of time. Dr. Cunningham's notes indicate that Bridgman [was] very concerned ... that this may be a job-related abnormality.” An MRI taken by Dr. Cunningham showed evidence of a degenerative disc disease.

¶ 14 On that same day, Bridgman filed a Report of Personal Injury with Union Pacific regarding pain in his back and legs. Bridgman reported that he became aware from his physician on February 22, 2008, that his condition may have been caused by his work. Bridgman also reported that he first noticed symptoms “recently” and that he was first treated or diagnosed on February 22, 2008.

¶ 15 On a referral from Dr. Cunningham, Bridgman visited Dr. Dante Vacca for a neurosurgical consultation in March 2008. Bridgman reported to Dr. Vacca that his pain began the previous December. Bridgman consulted in April with Dr. Andrew Wesely, whose notes indicate that Bridgman had experienced low back and leg pain for “at least four to six months” prior to the appointment.

¶ 16 On January 20, 2011, Bridgman filed a complaint against Union Pacific under FELA, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., for the back and leg injuries he allegedly sustained during his employment with the company. The complaint alleged that he “began experiencing low back and leg pain” on or about January 22, 2008. Bridgman alleged that Union Pacific knew or should have known that the types of tasks assigned to Bridgman, including getting on and off moving equipment and riding rough tracks, cause cumulative trauma disorder and repetitive musculoskeletal injuries in railroad workers.

¶ 17 Union Pacific filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Bridgman's claim was time-barred under FELA's three-year statute of limitations. In support of its argument, Union Pacific detailed the numerousoccasions Bridgman sought medical help for his back and legs to demonstrate the lack of an issue of material fact as to when Bridgman knew or should have known about the possibility of a work-related injury. Bridgman opposed the motion, claiming that a question of material fact existed, and arguing in the alternative that further discovery should be permitted under M.R. Civ. P. 56(f).

¶ 18 The District Court granted Union Pacific's motion for summary judgment on August 30, 2012. The court held that the statute of limitations began running once Bridgman learned that his back and leg pain may have been caused by his employment; according to the medical records, that was as early as December 14, 2000, when Bridgman and his chiropractor, Dr. Pierce, discussed aspects of his work as a potential cause for his pain. The court rejected Bridgman's argument that knowledge of the specific cause of an injury is required to trigger the limitations clock in a FELA action, stating, “A plaintiff who discovers his job may be a potential cause of his injury is on notice of the running of this statute.”

¶ 19 The court also rejected Bridgman's argument that further discovery should be allowed. The court determined that Bridgman did not show what possible discovery would need to be undertaken that would bear on the issue of the statute of limitations. Given that the applicable medical records already were collected and submitted to the court, the court denied Bridgman's request. Bridgman appeals both the District Court's summary judgment ruling and its denial of his request for additional discovery.


¶ 20 We review de novo a district court's summary judgment ruling. Johnston v. Centennial Log Homes & Furnishings, Inc., 2013 MT 179, ¶ 24, 370 Mont. 529, 305 P.3d 781. Under M.R. Civ. P. 56(c), the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Dovey v. Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry. Co., 2008 MT 350, ¶ 12, 346 Mont. 305, 195 P.3d 1223. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to prove by more than mere denial or speculation, and by competent evidence, that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Roy v. Blackfoot Tel. Coop., Inc., 2004 MT 316, ¶ 11, 324 Mont. 30, 101 P.3d 301.

¶ 21 We review a district court's M.R. Civ. P. 56(f) ruling for an abuse of discretion. Rosenthal v. Co. of Madison, 2007 MT 277, ¶ 23, 339 Mont. 419, 170 P.3d 493.


¶ 22 1. Whether the District Court erred in concluding as a matter of law that Bridgman's FELA claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

¶ 23 FELA requires an injured railroad employee to commence a claim for injury within three years from the date the cause of action accrued. 45 U.S.C. § 56. The Act does not define when an injury accrues, but case law distinguishes the standard based upon whether the injury was an accident from a one-time occurrence or an occupational disease accumulating over time. See Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 93 L.Ed. 1282 (1949) (recognizing occupational disease claims under FELA for the first time). Claims based upon medical injury accrue when the...

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4 cases
  • Schoof v. Nesbit
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • January 9, 2014
    ...417 P.2d at 470, 473. More recently, we considered the application of a judge-made discovery rule in Bridgman v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 2013 MT 289, 372 Mont. 124, 311 P.3d 416, which involved a claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. Pursuant to this discovery rule, a federa......
  • Anderson v. BNSF Ry.
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • August 12, 2015
    ...interests the statute of limitations is meant to protect are implicated.¶ 43 BNSF argues that our decision in Bridgman v. Union Pac. R.R., 2013 MT 289, 372 Mont. 124, 311 P.3d 416 controls the disposition of this case. In Bridgman, the sole issue on appeal was the discovery rule. See Bridgm......
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    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • February 26, 2019
    ...showing of particular facts or types of fact sought and how, if found, those facts will preclude adverse judgment. Bridgman v. Union Pac. R.R. Co ., 2013 MT 289, ¶ 31, 372 Mont. 124, 311 P.3d 416 ; Rosenthal v. Cty. of Madison , 2007 MT 277, ¶ 42, 339 Mont. 419, 170 P.3d 493 ; Envtl. Contra......
  • Gourneau v. Hamill, DA 13–0210.
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • October 15, 2013
    ...of proving by “competent evidence,” rather than denial or speculation, that a genuine issue of material fact existed. Bridgman v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 2013 MT 289, ¶ 20, 372 Mont. 124, 311 P.3d 416. Gourneau did not introduce any evidence indicating that any representative of the school, in......

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