“I was exposed to fumes for a year when I lived in an apartment near a chemical plant. I have breathing trouble now and the doctor told me the chemical plant fumes could have caused my breathing trouble. It has been 15 years since I lived in the apartment next to the stinky fumes. Can I bring a case against the chemical plant?”
It depends. There are so many issues that your question touches on that I will have to give you a longwinded answer to highlight some of the issues you will need to address before filing a court case.
The statute of limitations is only 3 years in New York, so normally the answer would be no. However, CPLR section 214-c extends (or tolls) the statute of limitations to 3 years of the date of discovery of the condition caused by exposure or “when through the exercise of reasonable diligence such injury should have been discovered by the plaintiff” whichever is earlier. CPLR 214-c(2). So if you felt symptoms for years and ignored them, then you may be out of luck.
One of the more common exposure cases from the last century was lead paint exposure. Children who would ingest lead paint chips would take years to manifest the symptoms. The tolling statute revived many of those claims. But since lead paint has been outlawed for decades, such cases are must less frequent.
The other major issue associated with your question is “causation.” In your question you wrote that your doctor told you that your breathing trouble “could” have been caused by the chemical plant fumes. As the injured party, you have the burden of proof to show what did cause your breathing problems. With lead poisoning cases, there was one specific medical condition associated with lead paint exposure. So between the diagnosis and hair and nail samples from the victim, the injured party could be easy to prove causation. Your doctor will have to obtain a detailed medical history from you (for example, do you smoke?, did you work in a job which exposed you to chemicals?) in order to say definitively what caused your breathing problems. And even if the doctor obtains your medical history, he or she still may not be able to say what caused your breathing problems.
So there would be much more investigation into your case before anyone could say if you have a viable claim.