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Mayes v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 22, 2019

ROSIE MAYES, Individually and as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Jesse Mayes, Sr., Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Andrew S. Hanen United States District Judge

         Before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 52), its Brief in Support thereof (Doc. No. 48), Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition (Doc. No. 49), and Defendant's Reply Brief (Doc. No. 50).

         I.

         Jesse Mayes, Sr. was a longtime employee of the Union Pacific Railroad Company ("Union Pacific"). He started working at Union Pacific in 1977. In 2002, a few years after Mr. Mayes left the railroad, Mr. Mayes joined over 200 other employees in a Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA") suit against Union Pacific claiming personal injury damages from exposure to toxic chemicals. Union Pacific ultimately received a summary judgment in that case, which was affirmed on appeal in 2007. Abraham v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 233 S.W.3d 13 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist] 2007, pet. denied). Mr. Mayes retired from Union Pacific in July of 1999. In 2009, Mr. Mayes was diagnosed with colon cancer. He immediately attributed that cancer to his employment with Union Pacific and the toxic substances he was exposed to during his employment there. Ultimately, he died on November 10, 2013.

         Over two years later, on November 7, 2016, his widow, Rosie Mayes, filed this FELA suit in this Court.[1] In this action, like the previously filed state court cause, it is alleged that Mr. Mayes's illness (and in this case his subsequent death) was caused by exposure to toxic substances while he worked for Union Pacific. Defendant has now moved for summary judgment on multiple grounds but primarily argues that the claims are barred either by the statute of limitations or res judicata based upon the prior state court lawsuit.

         II.

         The parties concede that the statute of limitations in a FELA case is three years:

No action shall be maintained under this chapter unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued.

45U.S.C. §56.

         Thus, the pivotal question before the Court is when this cause of action accrued-when the cancer was diagnosed or at the date of Mr. Mayes's death. As a general proposition, a cause of action accrues when the employee knows or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known of his injury and its cause. Tolston v. Natl R.R. Passenger Corp., 102 F.3d 863, 865 (7th Cir. 1996); see also White v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 867 F.3d 997 (8th Cir. 2017). In the instant case, Mr. Mayes knew of his injury and its cause in 2009.

Mrs. Mayes testified that Mr. Mayes's cancerous condition was diagnosed in 2009 following a colonoscopy:
Q. When they found the colon cancer in 2008 or 2009, had the cancer already spread, do you know?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay.
A. I was told it had ...

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