Caudill v. CSX Transp., Inc.

Decision Date27 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. 12–0420.,12–0420.
Citation231 W.Va. 650,749 S.E.2d 342
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesGary L. CAUDILL, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant Below, Respondent.


Syllabus by the Court

1. ‘The standard of review applicable to an appeal from a motion to alter or amend a judgment, made pursuant to W.Va. R.Civ.P. 59(e), is the same standard that would apply to the underlying judgment upon which the motion is based and from which the appeal to this Court is filed.’ Syl. Pt. 1, Wickland v. American Travellers Life Ins. Co., 204 W.Va. 430, 513 S.E.2d 657 (1998).” Syl. Pt. 1, Graham v. Beverage, 211 W.Va. 466, 566 S.E.2d 603 (2002).

2. “A circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Syl. Pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

3. “Summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.” Syl. Pt. 4, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

4. “Pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 56 (1948), federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction of claims brought under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51 (1939). Although a state court may use procedural rules applicable to civil actions in the state court unless otherwise directed by the Federal Employers' Liability Act, substantive issues under the Federal Employers' Liability Act are determined by the provisions of the statute and interpretative decisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act given by the federal courts.” Syl. Pt. 4, McGraw v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 201 W.Va. 675, 500 S.E.2d 300 (1997).

5. “The provision of the Federal Employers' Liability Act, as amended, prescribing a period of three years after a cause of action accrues within which to commence an action covered by that statute relates to the right which it creates and the remedy which it provides; and an action based upon or within the scope of the statute, which is not commenced within the three year period of limitation, can not be maintained.” Syl. Pt. 3, Jordan v. Baltimore & O.R. Co., 135 W.Va. 183, 62 S.E.2d 806 (1950).

6. The statute of limitations under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 56 (2006), requires an objective inquiry as to when a plaintiff knew or should have known, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, the facts of his or her injury and its cause.

Richard N. Shapiro, Esq., Virginia Beach, VA, for Petitioner.

J. David Bolen, Esq., Todd R. Meadows, Esq., Huntington, WV, for Respondent.

LOUGHRY, Justice:

The petitioner, Gary L. Caudill (Mr.Caudill), appeals from the circuit court's March 12, 2012, order denying his motion to alter or amend the circuit court's previous order entered February 27, 2012, granting summary judgment in favor of the respondent, CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT). Mr. Caudill instituted this action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq.,1 alleging that he sustained injuries arising out of his employment with CSXT.2 The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of CSXT on the basis that Mr. Caudill's action was untimely filed. In this appeal, Mr. Caudill asserts that the circuit court erred because there are disputed material facts concerning the applicable statute of limitations and whether he knew or should have known of his injury and its cause more than three years prior to filing his complaint.

Upon our consideration of the record in this matter, the briefs and arguments of the parties, the applicable legal authority, and for the reasons discussed below, we affirm the orders of the circuit court.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Mr. Caudill was employed by CSXT from 1977 until 2008. During this period, Mr. Caudill's job as a conductor required him to ride for several hours at a time in either the caboose or the locomotive of trains. Mr. Caudill maintains that he sustained injuries to his back due to unsupportive seats on the cabooses and locomotives. When asked to explain what he meant by “not supportive,” Mr. Caudill testified during his deposition, as follows:

Q. If you were to tell me, you know, this one problem with these seats was the thing that bothered you the most, what would that be?

A. You didn't have anything here to support you.

Q. And you're talking about the back then?

A. The back and the bottom.

Q. Okay.

A. Because between the excess lateral movement, the locomotive gave, then the suspension-wise such as shocks and so on and so forth, you had nothing to take the impact when you hit a low spot or the pan-out or circumstances, it would only end up right in your back.

Q. Did the seats have armrests on them or no?

A. No, sir.


Q. Was there any vibration? Could you feel vibration?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Okay. What did it feel like? Tell me what it felt like.

A. It was up and down, continuously up and down motion.

Q. Like were moving up and down, the seat moving up and down?

A. Uh-huh.

Q. Is that “yes”?

A. Yes.

Q. Okay.

A. Yes, the motion up and down, at the same time you went from side to side [,] as well[ ] as up and down[,] you went side to side continuously.

Mr. Caudill testified that he complained several times over the years to railroad officers and trainmasters about the seats, including that they “were uncomfortable to ride in and they weren't supportive to your back[,] and that he made similar complaints to his union officers and at union safety meetings.

During the same time Mr. Caudill was complaining about the seats on the locomotives, he had recurrent back pain, which he described as “on and off for a long time.” Mr. Caudill's medical records, as well as the deposition testimony of Dr. John Darnell, his family physician, reflect that he saw Dr. Darnell in 1985 for “low back pain[,] which he reported had been ongoing for approximately one year. The appendix record also contains the records of chiropractors 3 showing that Mr. Caudill received treatment for back pain between 2001 and 2007.4 A chiropractic record dated September 25, 2001, demonstrates that Mr. Caudill reported that he had been experiencing low back pain for some time; that it was painful for him to sit, walk, and bend; and that his work involved sitting and standing. Mr. Caudill also testified that his back “went out” while he was at work approximately eight years earlier and that he was taken to a hospital for treatment.5

In November 2005, Mr. Caudill saw Dr. Darnell for several complaints, including hip and back pain. A medical record dated November11, 2005, reflects that Mr. Caudill complained to Dr. Darnell of, among other things, pain in the “S1area,” and that Dr. Darnell ordered an x-ray of Mr. Caudill's hip and back at that time. In the radiological report of this x-ray dated November 11, 2005, it states that Mr. Caudill had “grade–1 anterolisthesis of L5 on S1 secondary to L5 bilateral spondylolysis. Marked degenerative changes at this level identified.” Mr. Caudill saw Dr. Darnell two more times in November and the medical record for one of those visits shows a notation that “pain better [with] Aleve per pt re back.” Notwithstanding these post-x-ray visits, Mr. Caudill contends that he never asked Dr. Darnell about the results of his x-ray, nor did he further investigate the cause of his back pain. Even though Mr. Caudill had complained numerous times to his superiors at work and to his union officers regarding the unsupportive seats on the locomotives, and even though he was only thirty-five years old when he first reported his back pain to Dr. Darnell in 1985, he testified that he attributed the pain to “getting older” and “part of life.” 6

Mr. Caudill alleges that he last worked for CSXT on June 29, 2008, by which time his back pain had become debilitating. Around this same time, Dr. Darnell ordered an MRI of Mr. Caudill's lumbar spine. The June 26, 2008, radiological report of this MRI showed, in part, “chronic bilateral L5 spondylolysis with grade 1 anterolisthesis at L5–S1,” which was the same radiological impression from the x-ray taken in 2005. Dr. Darnell referred Mr. Caudill to Dr. Phillip Tibbs, a neurosurgeon, who reviewed Mr. Caudill's MRI and diagnosed him with spondylolisthesis.7 Dr. Tibbs performed surgery on Mr. Caudill after which he opined that Mr. Caudill's condition was disabling and medically disqualified him from his work as a conductor for CSXT.

During Dr. Tibbs's deposition, he explained that spondylolisthesis is a medical term that means “slippage of the vertebrae.” 8 He further testified that Mr. Caudill's symptoms “had been going on for at least five or seven years[;] that his back problems dated back to 1985; and that his back pain would occasionally be so bad that he could not get out of bed or he would have to go to the hospital.9 Dr. Tibbs was asked to look at photographs of seats similar to those that Mr. Caudill sat on while riding on train locomotives after which he was asked whether “vibration and jarring cause or contribute to cause injury to the spine through degeneration?” Dr. Tibbs responded affirmatively. Dr. Tibbs was then asked whether it is “generally accepted that riding in constrained and awkward postures for extended periods of time can cause or directly contribute to cause degenerative changes in the spine, also?” Dr. Tibbs answered, [I]f that occurs over an extended period of time, yes, it's accepted.” Dr. Tibbs's concluded that Mr. Caudill's spondylolisthesis was caused or directly contributed to by his work for CSXT.

On September 17, 2010, Mr. Caudill filed his FELA action against CSXT alleging that he suffered from spinal injuries caused by cumulative trauma during the course of his employment with CSXT. On January 27, 2012, CSXT filed a motion for summary judgment...

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