May v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2010–01272–COA–R9–CV.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Citation361 S.W.3d 511
Decision Date09 June 2011
Parties William MAY v. ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY.
Docket NumberNo. W2010–01272–COA–R9–CV.

361 S.W.3d 511

William MAY
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY.

No. W2010–01272–COA–R9–CV.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Western Section, at Jackson.

Jan. 20, 2011 Session.
June 9, 2011.
Supreme Court Oct. 18, 2011.


361 S.W.3d 512

Stephen R. Leffler, Law Office of Stephen R. Leffler, Memphis, Tennessee and H. Chris Christy, Law Office of H. Chris Christy, Little Rock, Arkansas, for Plaintiff/Appellee, William May.

S. Camille Reifers and Brooks E. Kostakis, Boyle Brasher LLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Defendant/Appellant, Illinois Central Railroad Company.

OPINION

This appeal involves a claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. The plaintiff employee filed this lawsuit against the defendant railroad alleging injuries caused by his employment. The railroad company filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the employee's claims are time-barred. The railroad argued that, under the discovery rule, the facts showed that the employee knew or should have known that his injuries were work-related more than three years before the lawsuit was filed. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment. The railroad was granted permission for this interlocutory appeal. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

Plaintiff/Appellee William May ("May") was born in 1954 and completed high school. In 1972 May began his employment with Defendant/Appellant Illinois Central Railroad Company ("ICRR)."

May's work for ICRR was always physically demanding, using a variety of tools that evolved over the course of his employment. Initially, he worked as a laborer on railroad cross ties, rails, joints and bolts, using hand tools such as wrenches, claw bars, iron jacks, shovels and picks, as well as power tools that were powered by vibrating generators. Subsequently, he worked as a welder helper assisting welders, and also as a grinder operator. In these positions, he used tools such as sledge hammers and hot cuts, which he used to cut solidified metal and wheel attachments.

In 1975, May became qualified as a welder. He remained in this position for ICRR until 2003, using an electric welder.1

361 S.W.3d 513

Over the course of his tenure as a welder, hand air tampers replaced generators, and hand air tampers were subsequently replaced by hydraulics. Later, hydraulic cutters replaced hot cuts; these minimized the use of a sledgehammer. May used a rail puller machine to pull the railroad rails together. Subsequently, some tools were replaced by hydraulic spike drivers and hydraulic grinders.

In May 2001, May visited John McFadden, M.D. for a diagnosis regarding pain in his hands and elbows. May was experiencing a throbbing elbow, tingling hands, and some numbness. These symptoms arose between two or three times per day, sometimes while he was at work. Following up on information provided to him by his union, May asked Dr. McFadden whether he had carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. McFadden told May that he was suffering from tendinitis and/or a deranged elbow and gave him a prescription for Vioxx.

May's symptoms did not resolve. In June 2002, May visited another physician, Joseph Hanaway, M.D. ("Dr. Hanaway"), who conducted tests on May's hands and elbows and diagnosed him with carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome. Dr. Hanaway opined that May's problems were related to his work at the railroad. He referred May to a surgeon, David Haueisen, M.D. ("Dr. Haueisen"), who concurred in Dr. Hanaway's diagnosis and recommended surgery.

Pursuant to Dr. Haueisen's recommendation, in the fall of 2004, May underwent surgery on both hands and one elbow. The surgery alleviated some of his symptoms, but he was still left unable to grip and lift some tools. May left his employment with ICRR in October 2004 and began drawing disability benefits.

On April 22, 2005, May filed the instant lawsuit against ICRR asserting a claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"). May's complaint alleged that during his employment, ICRR negligently required him to operate various tools and equipment for unreasonably extended periods of time without appropriate protection. May also asserted failure to warn. May claimed that he was permanently disabled from various conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome, and sought compensatory damages.

ICRR filed its answer on July 1, 2005, denying liability, asserting negligence by May, and asserting that May's claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitation. Discovery ensued.

In May's deposition, he testified about the numbness and tingling in his hands, the throbbing in his elbows, and the pain in his shoulders, back and neck. Questioned as to what tasks at work caused him to experience these symptoms May responded:

Most of the time running one of these tools, you know either the vibrating one or sometime—one time I let a sledgehammer go, you know, and almost hit a guy. You know, I lost my grip on it, but most of the time when I'd feel the tingling it would be after—after quitting running one of those [vibrating or impact] tools.

May testified that when he visited the first physician, Dr. McFadden, he was unsure as to whether his symptoms were related to his employment with ICRR.2

361 S.W.3d 514

May testified that, in June 2002, when he visited the second physician, Dr. Hanaway, his problem was diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome.3 After that, May became certain that his work was the cause of his carpal tunnel syndrome and the ensuing disability.

In June 2009, ICRR filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that May's action was time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations applicable to FELA claims. ICRR argued that, under the discovery rule,4 May knew or should have known that his condition was work-related in May 2001 when he visited Dr. McFadden. In support, ICRR attached the medical records from May's visit to Dr. McFadden, noting that, at that time, May was experiencing the symptoms of pain, tingling and numbness in his hands and elbow and visited Dr. McFadden because he believed that he may have been suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.

In response to ICRR's motion for summary judgment, May argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the timeliness of his claim. May contended that the May 2001 medical records show only that he suspected that there was a problem with his hands and elbow that might be carpal tunnel syndrome, because the symptoms at that time were intermittent. May asserted that, in 2002, his symptoms worsened and became less intermittent. May claimed that he did not relate his condition to his employment until June 2002, when he visited Dr. Hanaway, who diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and indicated that it was work-related. May attached the medical records of Dr. Hanaway and his surgeon, Dr. Haueisen, to his response.

The trial court held a hearing on ICRR's summary judgment motion on October 9, 2009. The trial court noted that, at the time of May's 2001 visit to Dr. McFadden, May recognized that he experienced pain following the use of vibrating tools. However, the trial court also observed that May was not diagnosed with carpal tunnel at his 2001 doctor visit, but was instead diagnosed with derangement of the left elbow.

On February 18, 2010, the trial court entered a written order denying ICRR's motion for summary judgment, finding that there was a material issue of fact with regard to the accrual date of May's FELA claim. During the hearing the trial court commented that May "is certainly not ... one of the more sophisticated individuals, and I think he made a diligent effort to go find out what was wrong." Subsequently, ICRR obtained permission from the trial court and the appellate court for this interlocutory appeal of the denial of its summary judgment motion, on the issue of whether May's FELA claim was barred by the applicable three year statute of limitations.5 TENN. R.APP. P. 9.

361 S.W.3d 515

ISSUES ON APPEAL AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

On appeal, ICRR argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment. ICRR contends that the record...

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3 practice notes
  • Blackmon v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2013-01605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • May 16, 2014
    ...generally govern procedural matters. Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); May v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 361 S.W.3d 511, 518 n.9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011); Jennings, 993 S.W.2d at 70. Accordingly, we will consider Illinois Central's motion for summary judgment under ......
  • Wlodarz v. State, No. E2008–02179–SC–R11–CO.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • February 23, 2012
    ...choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant.’ ” Lane v. State, 316 S.W.3d 555, 562 (Tenn.2010) (quoting [361 S.W.3d 511] Grindstaff v. State, 297 S.W.3d 208, 218 (Tenn.2009)). To that end, Tenn. R.Crim. P. 11(b)(1) requires the trial court to assure that the defenda......
  • McBee v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. W2015-01253-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • February 24, 2017
    ...should have discovered both cause and injury." Fonseca, 246 F.3d at 588 (citing Hicks, 826 F.2d at 1544).May v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 361 S.W.3d 511, 516 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 18, 2011) (quoting Ward. v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2010-00950-R3-CV, 2011 WL 25514......
3 cases
  • Blackmon v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2013-01605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • May 16, 2014
    ...generally govern procedural matters. Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); May v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 361 S.W.3d 511, 518 n.9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011); Jennings, 993 S.W.2d at 70. Accordingly, we will consider Illinois Central's motion for summary judgment under ......
  • Wlodarz v. State, No. E2008–02179–SC–R11–CO.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • February 23, 2012
    ...choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant.’ ” Lane v. State, 316 S.W.3d 555, 562 (Tenn.2010) (quoting [361 S.W.3d 511] Grindstaff v. State, 297 S.W.3d 208, 218 (Tenn.2009)). To that end, Tenn. R.Crim. P. 11(b)(1) requires the trial court to assure that the defenda......
  • McBee v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. W2015-01253-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • February 24, 2017
    ...should have discovered both cause and injury." Fonseca, 246 F.3d at 588 (citing Hicks, 826 F.2d at 1544).May v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 361 S.W.3d 511, 516 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 18, 2011) (quoting Ward. v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2010-00950-R3-CV, 2011 WL 25514......

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