A federal judge in Georgia granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the 10-year North Carolina statute of repose barred claims for plaintiffs’ alleged exposure to solvents and benzene in public water at Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina. Plaintiffs were exposed to these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from 1957 up until 1987.
Then, along comes this draconian statue of repose. Unlike the statute of limitations, the statute of repose starts running whether or not you are aware of any defect and may toll even before you are injured.
Plaintiffs had hoped that reasonableness demanded an exception for latent diseases, but the court disagreed. Ultimately, and unfairly, I think this may be the correct ruling. The cardinal canon before all others in statutory construction is “that courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there.” There is no latent exposure exception in the statute.
We have not been able to track down a copy of the opinion but we have been told by a reader that the judge also ruled that CERCLA § 9658 took precedence over the North Carolina statute which will keep these cases alive. Still, anything that limits plaintiffs’ claims in any way is not a good thing.
Besides the litigation efforts, Plaintiffs are also appealing to Congress to provide survivors with medical care and hospice for their contamination-related illnesses. The cost of such a plan has been estimated at nearly $4 billion.