WASHINGTON — In a case being followed closely by some Marine veterans and their families, a federal judge has denied the Navy's request to dismiss a civil case regarding an Iowa woman's exposure to contaminated water at Marines Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The Department of the Navy had argued that Laura Jones' claim should have been dismissed because she didn't file within a 10-year statute of repose — similar to a statute of limitation — that should have limited the time available for her to file suit.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle pointed out that her non-Hodgkin's lymphoma hadn't even been diagnosed by then, and he quotes congressional testimony in pointing out that cancer related to toxic exposure might not appear for 10 to 15 years.
"To summarily bar such claims from entering the courthouse would be a profound miscarriage of justice," wrote Boyle, who represents the U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina.
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He turned down the Navy's request to dismiss the case, and he also denied the government's request to make its arguments at a hearing.
Although the case is being heard in North Carolina, Marine veterans and their families across the country are paying close attention. Boyle wrote in his decision that half a million Marines and their family members were exposed to toxic substances during the time of the contamination, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.
Boyle made note of the other potential victims in his decision.
"To apply the statute of repose in this case would bar all potential claims from the over 500,000 Marines and their families affected," he wrote. "Indeed, it would bar the overwhelming majority of claims involving any cancer."
Jones lived at Camp Lejeune as a Marine spouse from 1980-81. She was diagnosed two decades later with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but she didn't learn until 2005 that Lejeune's water had been contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene.
She filed suit in 2009.
The Navy had argued that a North Carolina state law prohibited tort claims more than 10 years after a defendant's alleged culpable conduct — even if harm to the plaintiff had not manifested itself.
Boyle said the state law had an exception for "latent diseases," including the cancer from which Jones is suffering.
"The court cannot fathom a law that would require hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs to bring their claims before they even had opportunity to know they were harmed," Boyle wrote.
This was the second time Boyle has denied a request by the Navy to dismiss the case.
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