Local News

Retired Marine disappointed by Lejeune water ruling

Posted October 15, 2014 7:07 p.m. EDT

The victims of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune are angry and disappointed that their health claims against the federal government have been denied on a technicality.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Tuesday ruled that North Carolina's "statute of repose" ends a plaintiff's right to seek damages more than 10 years after the last contamination barred many claims.

Dozens of Marines, civilian workers and their family members have reported illnesses that they blame on toxic chemicals found to be in the drinking water at the Marine base from the 1950s to the 1980s. They argued that 10 years had already run out before victims learned of the contamination, and that many are just now learning of health effects linked to the water.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer in an Asheville groundwater contamination case that the statute of repose trumped environmental laws, the General Assembly quickly passed legislation clarifying that the statute of repose applied only to product liability cases and not to groundwater cases. Lawmakers said at the time that the new law would help the plaintiffs in the Asheville case as well as those suing over Camp Lejeune's water.

The appellate court said, however, that the new state law cannot retroactively validate the health claims of the Camp Lejeune victims, and the lawsuit was sent back to a lower court.

Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine drill instructor, lost his 9-year-old daughter to leukemia in 1985, called the ruling a slap in the face.

"We're being stripped of the very rights that we were all serving to protect when we were exposed to this poison by our own leadership," Ensminger said Wednesday. "How are you going to file a claim when your cancer or your health defect hasn't even materialized yet? I mean, are these judges saying that you have to be clairvoyant?"