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Water lawsuit against LDA dismissed

CARIBOU, Maine — A Georgia woman and former employee of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Limestone who sued the Loring Development Authority, claiming she suffered health effects after she was exposed to contaminated water at work, had her case dismissed from court.

Angela Jackson of Bonaire, Georgia, filed the suit in March  in U.S. District Court in Bangor. It was dismissed last week for several reasons, including that Jackson failed to meet the notice requirements of the Maine Tort Claims Act and that the state’s sovereign immunity bars such a lawsuit.

According to the court documents, Jackson worked at the DFAS offices in Limestone, which are located in the Loring Commerce Centre on the former Loring Air Force base, from 1997 to 2015.       

The Loring Development Authority, which oversees facilities on the property, provided water service through an underground reservoir, storage system, and treatment plant to DFAS and other businesses and residential tenants, the suit states.

Jackson, who frequently drank the water in her coffee, began getting ill around 2004 or 2005, according to the lawsuit. Her condition worsened significantly in July 2011 and she began suffering neurological problems, hair loss, appetite disturbance, headaches, memory lapses and sleep disturbances, the suit says.

Despite medical treatment, she never received a diagnosis for her condition. Her colleagues also began suffering health effects, and Jackson began to believe that there was something unhealthy about the building.

Jackson opted to transfer away from the facility to Georgia in 2015 in the hopes that it would alleviate her medical problems.

According to court documents, tests conducted at the LDA in 2015 showed that water “exceeded the maximum contaminant level for total trihalomethanes in a water system.”

Trihalomethanes are formed as a by-product predominantly when chlorine is used to disinfect water for drinking.

Jackson contends that she continues to suffer adverse and apparently permanent health consequences from the daily, long-term ingestion of trihalomethanes contained in the water provided by DFAS, according to her lawsuit.

In its response to the lawsuit, the state Attorney General’s Office noted that the Maine Tort Claims Act, “requires that a party bringing a claim or action against the state must notify the state agency or authority and the Attorney General of the particulars of the claim within 180 days after the cause of action accrued.” Jackson failed to do that, according to court documents.

The attorney general’s office further addressed immunity against the lawsuit by noting that the “plaintiff’s employer, DFAS, leased property from LDA, an instrumentality of the state of Maine, during all times relevant to the allegations in the complaint.”

“The allegations in this case arise out of the plaintiff’s exposure to the water provided to tenant DFAS, a federal government entity, by LDA, a Maine state entity,” court documents noted. “The claims, therefore, result from the leasing of governmental property, the DFAS building, and the water supplied to the building. Plaintiff’s claims against LDA alleging that the contaminated water supply in the leased building caused her damages, are therefore barred by LDA’s statutory immunity.”

Jackson’s attorney, Christopher Leger, said late last week that when the lawsuit was first filed, there was optimism that legal arguments could be made to find an exception to the Maine Tort Claims Act in this case, but as the case moved forward, it appeared less likely.

“It is very unfortunate,” he said.

Carl Flora, president and CEO of LDA, said Monday that he was pleased that the lawsuit was dismissed and that it came “well after any alleged problems were fixed.”

“The water here meets the appropriate standards it is required to meet,” he added.

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