A big case against the U.S. Marine Corps involving allegations of groundwater contamination at a base in North Carolina recently came to an end. The case was a defeat for families who had sued the federal government for its role in causing illness due to the way it handled toxic waste at Camp Lejeune. Apparently, family of military personnel at the camp had higher cancer rates than personnel at other bases without contamination over a 31-year period of time.
Lawsuits on the issue were actually consolidated in federal court in Georgia back in 2011. The judge in charge of that case rejected the government’s argument that the families were not able to file lawsuits on the issue due to statutory time limits. Last week, that decision was reversed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court.
The issue on appeal was a North Carolina law—passed in an attempt to help the injured families—which tried to allow lawsuits under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act to be brought beyond the previous 10-year limit. The law would have applied retroactively, but the circuit court ruled that the law could not be applied retroactively so as to assist the families.
Sources didn’t indicate exactly why it took so long for the families to file lawsuits under the federal law, but it would be understandable that it would have taken some time to link the communal illness to long-term toxic waste exposure. Unfortunately, this litigation makes it clear that the federal government will utilize every technicality possible in an effort to avoid being held accountable on such issues. This is exactly why it is important to work with an experienced attorney when facing such situations, and to act early to ensure responsible parties are held accountable.
Reuters.com, “U.S. court rebuffs Marine Corps families in polluted water case,” Pamela Maclean, October 15, 2014.