Judge allows billion-dollar water lawsuit to go forward
The city of Chesapeake, Virginia, can be sued by a woman who says contaminated water caused her miscarriage, a judge has decided.
Early next year, Circuit Judge Norman Olitsky is expected to rule on the merits of the lawsuit and whether a jury will hear the case of Helen Cunningham, who miscarried in 1998, reports WaterTechOnline.
Nearly 170 other women have also filed lawsuits seeking more than US$1 billion, claiming Chesapeake officials misled them about high levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) in the city’s drinking water that they allege caused miscarriages.
Last month, the judge threw out part of Cunningham’s case because some of the charges relied on inapplicable federal laws.
In January or February, Judge Olitsky will hear evidence about when Cunningham could have reasonably discovered that the water might have caused her miscarriage. The timing is crucial in determining whether the lawsuit can go forward under the state’s two-year statute of limitations.
THMs form when chlorine used to disinfect drinking water mixes with organic material such as algae, twigs and leaf particles. Edie recently reported that THMs have been found to increase significantly in the human bloodstream after showering (see related story).
City officials knew about the THM problem when the first water plant was built in the early 1980s, attorneys argued last week. Research showed that the contaminated water placed women who used it at greater risk of miscarriages and other problems. THMs came under federal regulation at about the same time.
Officials didn’t start warning the public until 1998, the women’s lawsuits say. That year, after tests showed elevated levels of THMs, the city issued public health warnings that women who drank five or more glasses of the water a day could be at higher risk of miscarriage.