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U.S. Supreme Court accepts maximum limit period for filing pollution lawsuits

GableGotwals’ Dean Couch discusses recent high court case involving environmental damages and when lawsuits against polluters must be filed.
Oklahoman Published: August 7, 2014

Q&A with Dean Couch

Supreme Court accepts maximum time limit in filing pollution suits

Q: The U.S. Supreme Court decided a case, CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, in June concerning toxic torts, environmental damages and when lawsuits against polluters must be filed. Lawsuits regarding water contamination are nothing new. Why is this ruling significant?

A: In this case the U.S. Supreme Court accepts a maximum time period in which a lawsuit can be filed against a polluter after the pollution event, even if the pollution isn’t discovered until after the maximum time period to file the lawsuit. The result respects a state’s right to adopt a state law that limits citizens’ ability to file lawsuits against polluters.

Q: What deadlines does the Superfund law set for filing an environmental lawsuit?

A: The federal Superfund law about hazardous substances and wastes didn’t provide separate authority to file a lawsuit in federal court for personal injury or property damages against a polluter. Instead, the federal law relied on existing state laws about those kinds of pollution damage lawsuits. The federal law does include a specific statement to say that personal injury or property damages lawsuits filed under state law caused by hazardous substances pollution must be filed within the statute of limitations period prescribed by state law, but with a slight twist. The federal law also said that the time frame to file a lawsuit starts when the person damaged “knew or reasonably should have known” that the damages were caused by the hazardous waste pollution. However, in this case, the Supreme Court noted that the North Carolina state law at issue was a statute of repose and not a statute of limitation.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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