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A company should not be able to represent to its employees they have three years in which to bring legal action against it for injuries sustained on the job and then subsequently claim the statutory two-year limitations period as a bar to their claims. Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The plaintiff, Rodney Forrest, sustained an on-the-job injury on Sept. 29, 1997, while in the employ of defendant, Vital Earth Resources. Forrest collected benefits under Vital Earth’s Occupational Injury Benefit Program for two years. On July 26, 2000, he filed suit against Vital Earth, claiming that Vital Earth’s negligence led to his injury. Vital Earth filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that Forrest’s suit was barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on the sole ground that the statute of limitations had expired before Forrest filed suit. Equitable estoppel may be asserted as an affirmative defense against a motion for summary judgment based on limitations when the opposing party has made representations that induce the plaintiff to delay filing suit within the applicable limitations period. The nonmovant may avoid summary judgment by producing evidence sufficient to raise a fact issue on each of the following elements: 1. a false representation or concealment of a material fact; 2. the representation was made with knowledge or the means of knowledge of the true facts; 3. the representation was made to a party without knowledge or the means of knowledge of the true facts; 4. the representation was made with the intention that it would be acted on; and 5. the party to whom the representation was made relied on or acted on it to his or her prejudice. The court also must find that the failure to file suit was not mixed with a lack of diligence by plaintiff. Forrest presented sufficient evidence on each of these elements. Forrest contends that the representation in the Benefit Plan summary caused him to delay filing suit. Vital Earth contends that the provision does not refer to negligence, personal injury or other liability claims, but that it reflects the limitations for legal action under ERISA. However, the benefit plan also provided that “[t]his booklet explains those benefits and the procedures you must follow in the event that you sustain an on-the-job Injury. In general terms, this means an Injury which occurs in the course and scope of employment with the Company.” Therefore, the summary specifically provided that it governed the procedures to be followed in the event of an injury. A company should not be able to represent to its employees that they have three years in which to bring legal action against it for injuries sustained on the job and then subsequently claim the statutory two-year limitations period as a bar to their claims. There is mixed evidence regarding the extent of Forrest’s reliance upon the three-year limitations period in the Benefit Plan summary; however, considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Forrest has provided sufficient evidence to raise a fact issue on whether he relied on the representation. Summary judgment is inappropriate. OPINION:Ross, J.; Morriss, C.J., Ross and Carter, JJ.

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