Fast-tracked, Bipartisan NC Bill Pushes Water Lawsuits Forward

Jun 24, 2014

Water flows from a kitchen faucet.
Credit Jenn Durfey / Flickr/

A new North Carolina law could allow two water contamination lawsuits to go forward, after they were stymied by a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month.

  In Asheville, an electronics company is accused of allowing chemicals to slip into the air and well water of more than a dozen households. At Camp Lejeune, thousands of Marine Corps families drank and showered in toxic water over the course of three decades. In both cases, health problems from the contamination were not discovered and court cases were not filed until more than a decade later. And that was too late, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month in the Asheville case—a state law limiting liability kicked in after 10 years.

“Nobody knew it. Nobody even knew they were even exposed at that time,” says Jerry Ensminger, a 25-year Marine Corps veteran, who lived at Camp Lejeune in the 70s and 80s. His daughter, born there, died of leukemia at age nine. The Supreme Court decision could have blocked him, and everyone else exposed, from seeking damages.

“Any cases or claims filed after February of 1995 or March of 1997 would be null and void,” says Ensminger.

But in a rarity, ten days after the Supreme Court decision, state lawmakers unanimously agreed to change the law it was based on, by exempting groundwater from the liability limitation. Governor Pat McCrory signed the new law on Friday, and both lawsuits are expected to move forward.