St. Louis Record

Monday, October 14, 2019

Court rules Missouri law applies to repetitive-use injury suit filed against Cottrell, suit is not time barred


By Charmaine Little | Jan 18, 2019

ST. LOUIS – A federal court has ruled that a man's repetitive-use injury suit was timely filed because it was originally filed in a Missouri court.

On Jan. 9, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in the Eastern Division denied the defendant's combined motion to reconsider or certify immediate interlocutory appeal in the case. U.S. District Judge John A. Ross ruled on the case.

Plaintiff Gregory Burdess worked for Jack Cooper Transport Co. as a car hauler and defendant Cottrell Inc. made, designed and distributed the motor carrier fleet. Burdess alleged in April 2013, he woke up one morning in an Illinois hotel and had no feeling in his arms. That same day, he went to a doctor in Missouri, who diagnosed him with bilateral shoulder impingement syndrome. Burdess then filed a lawsuit four years later over allegations the defective design in Cottrell's rigs caused the injury.

Cottrell responded with a motion for summary judgment saying the claims were time barred by Illinois’ two-year statute of limitations instead of Missouri’s five-year statute. Cottrell alleged the action originated in Illinois.

A court denied the motion, saying Burdess’ injury wasn’t capable of ascertainment until he was seen by a doctor in Missouri. Cottrell asked the current court for reconsideration of the denial, arguing the court’s explanation of the Missouri borrowing statutes were incorrect. Cottrell also asked for interlocutory appeal to allow the 8th Circuit to determine the outcome.

The District Court did agree with Cottrell that the Missouri Supreme Court already somewhat settled this issue in a 2006 case, Powel v. Chaminade Coll. Preparatory Inc. In the latter end of that case, the Supreme Court said "damages were sustained and capable of ascertainment 'when a reasonable person would have been put on notice that an injury and substantial damages may have occurred and would have undertaken to ascertain the extent of the damages,'” according to the opinion. 

The lower court said it is not likely that someone would wake up with a pain like Burdess did and automatically know it was because of a particular injury.  

The District Court maintained that opinion throughout the ruling and reiterated that waking up with an injury in a hotel room wouldn’t lead a person to know the specific injury that caused it. 

The court ruled that since Burdess’ cause of action (being diagnosed by an actual doctor) started in Missouri, then it is Missouri’s statute of limitation that holds true in this case, and the lawsuit was filed in a timely manner.  

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