U.S. Supreme Court Gives NC Polluter “Get Out of Liability Free” Card

The Supreme Court ruled against victims of toxic chemicals living in North Carolina where the state supports a statute of repose which further limits the time available to seek damages.

In a decision little noticed by the popular press, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that even people who were killed or seriously injured by toxic pollutants could be denied justice, even if they could not have known of their injury or its cause before expiration of arbitrary time limits. In CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, decided June 9, 2014, the Court held that corporate polluters can get away with it if a state had enacted a so-called statute of repose. The Court ruled that the time limit to file suit had expired even before people knew, or could know, what happened to them.

Federal law says that a state statute of limitations does not begin to run until someone knows they suffered an injury due to toxic chemicals allowed to seep into their air or ground.  Sometimes it takes decades for the injury to show up, and the federal law thinks that it is unfair to prevent those people from seeking justice for their injuries.

The Supreme Court distinguished statutes of limitations from statutes of repose, called this North Carolina statute one of “repose” and thus denied to the victims any right of recovery for their harms and losses. Only two justices dissented fully, Ginsberg and Breyer.  It is disappointing that two other Obama appointees, Kagan and Sotomayor voted to deny any remedy in these circumstances.  Congress needs to fix this to include statutes of repose as time limits suspended until toxic tort victims can know that they were poisoned.


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