- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina legislators are working to adjust a law that they fear could prevent people at a Marine Corps base and in the city of Asheville from recovering damages for contaminated water following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

House Republicans pushed a bill through a judiciary committee Thursday to change a law barring any lawsuit brought more than 10 years after any alleged contamination occurred. The proposal, expected to receive floor debate and votes Friday, says the 10-year period shouldn’t be interpreted as barring personal-injury cases involving certain groundwater contamination.

The change is in response to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that a group of Asheville homeowners cannot sue a nearby electroplating business they blamed for contaminating their land because the contamination ended in the 1980s - even though they didn’t learn of the pollution until 2009. A similar situation exists at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps base where the government says exposure to contaminated water ended in 1987.

“We’re confident that this is going to provide the kind of relief that the people in Asheville and people around Lejeune need,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County, who is also the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, two days after the court’s ruling involving electronics manufacturer CTS Corp., lawyers for President Barack Obama’s administration asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit blaming contaminated tap water at Camp Lejeune for birth defects, childhood cancers and other illnesses.

Lawmakers are hopeful the bill to clarify what’s called the “statute of repose” could still give the people who lived with the contamination the ability to receive damages in court. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that said federal environmental laws should trump state law.

“We’re hitting a reset button now that we understand how the federal courts are going to interpret state law,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson.

If the law is clarified, they said, courts could allow these two and other cases to proceed because there will be no time constraints on this kind of contamination litigation.

“This honors their justice rights - our Marines, their families and our citizens all over North Carolina,” added Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover.

House Republicans said they have support from Democrats and expect the Republican-led Senate to consider the measure early next week. GOP Gov. Pat McCrory would be asked to sign any bill into law.

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