The Indiana Court of Appeals split today in its decision as to whether Indiana's two-year statute of limitations for personal injury torts or the three-year statute of limitations under the Federal Employers' Liability Act applied in a man's FELA claim in state court.
The majority ruled the three-year statute of limitations under the FELA applied in the instant case.
In Steven A. Januchowski v. Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, No. 64A03-0806-CV-330, the appellate court had to decide which statute of limitation applies in suits in Indiana against political subdivisions such as the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, where issues of sovereign immunity come into play. It's already been settled the FELA statute of limitations applies over state statute in suits against private entities.
Steven Januchowski worked for NICTD and was injured on the job. His complaint in state court was filed a little over two years after he was injured.
The trial court ruled Indiana's general two-year statute of limitations for torts applied rather than the FELA statute of limitations because suits against governmental entities must be brought in compliance with the Indiana Tort Claims Act. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of NICTD.
The ITCA doesn't explicitly state which statute of limitation applies in this case, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik, although another part of Indiana Code refers to the general statute of limitation for torts, which is two years. The majority found the omission of the statute of limitations to be significant, given the legislature has inserted specific statute of limitations into other acts. Because it doesn't expressly contain a statute of limitation, the majority disagreed with NICTD's argument the two-year statute of limitations applies to all tort claims against the state no matter what the claim.
"Because we are to treat governmental entities like private entities unless the ITCA commands otherwise and the ITCA does not do so here, we will apply FELA to NICTD as if it were a private entity," wrote the judge. "As discussed above, FELA's three-year statute of limitation is regarded as a substantive right. Having complied with the three-year statute of limitation, Januchowski's suit may proceed."
In his dissent, Judge Carr Darden wrote because Januchowski chose to proceed with his FELA claim in state court instead of federal court, he should have complied with the Indiana procedural statute providing for a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims. Even though the ITCA contains no express statute of limitation provision, that ignores Indiana Code Section 34-11-2-4, which gives two years for personal injury claims. The majority also ignored the long-standing principle that statutes addressing the same subject are in pari materia and to be read in harmony if possible, he wrote.