Statute of Limitations Bill. New legislation provides long-term, New York State-wide implications for companies and other responsible entities, allowing potentially previously time-barred causes of action with increased opportunities for viability and justice.
Our firm is investigating potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who have been injured due to toxic substances and other contamination and spills at designated New York State Superfund sites.
Governor Cuomo Signs Hoosick Falls Bill Into Law
The so-called “Hoosick Falls” bill, S6824A, was introduced by Republican New York State Senator (New York’s 43rd Senate District), Kathleen Marchione, and is assumed to be her response to her constituents’ concerns over water supply contamination. The bill passed both the New York State Assembly and the Senate by wide margins, adding Section 214-f to the New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules (CPLR). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law on July 21, 2016.
The new law extends the statute of limitation under which personal injury claims may be brought over pollution, toxic exposure, and contamination at Superfund sites, reported TimesUnion. This law is meant to provide increased protection to individuals who suffered toxic exposure; however, the new law only applies to Superfund sites.
Toxic Tort Law vs. New CPLR Section
Previously, pursuant to CPLR Section 214-c, also known as the Toxic Tort Law, individuals had to bring an action for personal injury damages over toxic substance exposure within three years from the time an injury was discovered, or should have reasonably been discovered. Many feel the prior Toxic Tort Law was not sufficient for all personal injury claims, especially those involving an individual exposed to a toxic substance and who may not have been aware of that exposure or related, potential injury. For example, some injuries could present as cancer years later and well after a hazardous site is publicly identified as a Superfund site.
The newly signed CPLR 214-f enables the tolling of the current statute of limitations when a site is classified as a Superfund site, or based on the date-of-discovery rule under the original Toxic Tort Law, whichever is later. The new law is meant to update the statute of limitations for those who claim an injury, even if that injury took place more than three years ago or is the result of exposure to contamination at or from a newly designated Superfund site.
The law will also apply to sites designated a Superfund site by either the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and is hoped to entice the DEC to be more proactive in listing new Superfund sites. It is also hoped that the law may ultimately bring change to the CPLR 214 and expand beyond Superfund sites.
Hoosick Falls Contamination
The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant located in Hoosick Falls, is a site in New York State where perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination originated. PFOA was used at the Hoosick Falls plant for decades, and the contamination there became publicly known in 2015. Governor Cuomo’s administration declared the Hoosick Falls location a Superfund site in January 2016. Hoosick Falls’ residents allege exposure to the toxic chemicals adversely impacted property values.
“Although Hoosick Falls inspired it, it actually, I think, establishes a very important precedent,” Assembly Sponsor John McDonald (Democrat-Cohoes), told the TimesUnion of the new law. “Yes, it’s a win for the residents of Hoosick Falls, but (it’s also a win) for residents around New York State who might have an unfortunate situation like Hoosick Falls,” he added. Senator Kathy Marchione noted that the law enables Hoosick Falls; Petersburgh, of eastern Rensselaer County; and other parts of New York State to receive justice.
In 2015, members of the Hoosick Falls community contacted the EPA with their concerns and questions about if they should drink, bathe in, or cook with their PFOA-contaminated water. On November 25, 2015, the EPA recommended that, based on the presence of PFOA above 400 ppt in the Village of Hoosick Falls public drinking water supply, people should neither drink nor cook with the water from the Hoosick Falls public water supply. The following year, on March 30, 2016, the New York State Department of Health, the lead for addressing PFOA contamination in the water supply, announced that, “repeated testing of the village of Hoosick Falls’ municipal water system shows non detection of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and is now safe for all uses including drinking and cooking.”
The EPA is scheduled to have conducted additional sampling during spring 2016, including soil sampling in areas near the Saint-Gobain McCaffrey Street facility, and soil, groundwater, and storm drains (at the McCaffrey Street facility) sampling.
What is the Superfund?
EPA’s Superfund program is “responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills, and natural disasters,” according to the agency. The Superfund is meant to protect public health and the environment, focusing on making meaningful, long-term changes in communities and also to help ensure people may live and work in “healthy, vibrant places,” notes the EPA. The EPAs Superfund program has been in existence since 1980.
What is PFOA?
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a toxic, man-made chemical in a group of chemicals used to manufacture household and commercial products that are heat and chemical reaction resistant and oil, stain, grease, and water repellant. A surface-active agent, PFOA may be broadly found in non-stick pots and pans, carpets, coating additives, and fire fighting foam.
PFOA does not easily break down, making it very persistent in the environment. Its toxicity and its environmental persistence create potential adverse effects to human health and the environment.
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