Bill: Time Should Be No Barrier to Lejeune Victims

Bill: Time Should Be No Barrier to Lejeune Victims

N.C. Congressional leaders have introduced bills aimed at helping those harmed by toxic groundwater.

The bill would allow Camp Lejeune victims and their families to seek damages and preempt any state laws creating time limits for which any lawsuits may be filed.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D) and Congressman G.K. Butterfield introduced legislation in the Senate and the House on June 27. This legislation would not only aid residents who were exposed to toxic chemicals at the CTS superfund site near Asheville, N.C., but also Marines and their families who lived at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune over a 30-year period between 1957 and 1987.

The measure clarifies federal law as preempting state laws limiting the timeframe in which damages could be recovered “for injuries and diseases that often do not appear for decades after toxic exposure,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

“This legislation clarifies the intent of existing federal law and addresses the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that delivered a major blow to the servicemembers and families affected by water contamination at Camp Lejeune and the CTS site, making it nearly impossible for these victims to seek justice under the law,” Hagan said in a statement. “One short-sighted decision by the U.S. Supreme Court should not stand in the way of getting these victims the answers and justice they deserve.”

The legislation is in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that halted an Asheville lawsuit.

The Supreme Court cited North Carolina’s 10-year limit, or “statute of repose,” for filing lawsuits when ruling Asheville residents couldn’t sue a nearby electroplating business, which closed in the 1980s, for contamination. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit blaming contaminated tap water at Camp Lejeune for causing health problems among families who lived there, citing the Asheville ruling.

“North Carolinians and people across the country deserve protection from hazardous substances with the potential to endanger public health and the environment,” Butterfield said. “Those who release harmful substances into the environment have a responsibility to clean up contamination and address any suffering they have caused. This bill protects federal Superfund law as we know it, holds polluters accountable, and defends the rights of communities in North Carolina and across the country.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory also recently signed into law a bill that clarifies the legislature’s original intent behind the state’s 10-year “statute of repose.” The bill, SB574, says the true intent of the original legislation was meant to apply to product liability lawsuits and was never meant to be used to keep residents from suing companies or other parties over exposure to groundwater contamination.

Read more about groundwater contamination at Camp Lejeune here.