As of Feb. 10, 2023, 105 lawsuits have been filed in North Carolina federal court under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. On the same date, thousands of administrative claims expired without a resolution, which means those individuals have the right to proceed with lawsuits in what could become the largest mass litigation in U.S. history.
In this post, we answer 5 common questions about the issue of liability and the lawsuits underway as the fallout from the water contamination at Camp Lejeune is entering a new phase.
1. Why are U.S. veterans and their families suing?
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the drinking water at the United States Marine Corps base in North Carolina was contaminated with toxic chemicals, including Trichloroethylene (TCE), Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), Vinyl chloride (VC), and Benzene. The contamination resulted from leaks, spills, and improper disposal of these chemicals, which were used in various industrial processes on the base. As a result, as many as one million people may have been affected, according to numerous reports.
The contamination has been linked to a series of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, Parkinson’s, kidney damage, and other serious illnesses. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized eight diseases (adult leukemia, Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma,
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease) as being presumptively associated with exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
2. Who can be held liable for the water contamination?
There are several parties that have been held liable or are potentially liable, including:
- The U.S. government: As the owner and operator of Camp Lejeune, the U.S. government has acknowledged its role in the contamination. In 2012, President Obama signed legislation providing $2 billion in medical care and health benefits to veterans and their families who were affected.However, until President Biden in August of 2022 signed the PACT Act into law, a Supreme Court ruling in 1950 prevented U.S. military members from bringing claims against the government for injuries arising from their service (more on this issue later).
- Private contractors: Private contractors who operated and maintained facilities on the base, such as dry cleaners, have also been found to be liable for the contamination. For example, in 2016, a federal court ordered a contractor to pay $3.7 million in damages to a former Marine who was exposed to toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune.
- Chemical manufacturers: Manufacturers of the chemicals that contaminated the water have also been held liable in some cases, though some may have settled saying they did no wrong . Lawsuits against chemical companies have resulted in significant settlements, including a $670 million settlement with DuPont and Chemours in 2017.
3. Why are so many claims and lawsuits being filed now?
For many years, several factors essentially barred Camp Lejeune victims from suing to seek compensation for financial and intangible harms, such as medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. In addition to the 1950 Supreme Court ruling, under North Carolina’s statute of repose, no civil tort lawsuit can be filed after more than 10 years. The statue was the reason a federal judge in 2016 dismissed over 900 Camp Lejeune lawsuits.
That dynamic changed with the PACT Act, which includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Since Aug. 10, 2022, the date the law went into effect, certain individuals can file a claim and a subsequent lawsuit for damages resulting from the contaminated water at the base.
4. Who is eligible to file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
Anyone who was exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days (does not have to be consecutive) between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 can pursue compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. To prove liability, they must produce evidence that shows there’s at least a casual relationship (it’s as likely as not) between their water exposure and their harm. This is considered a lenient standard of proof compared to ordinary toxic tort cases.
5. How should a lawsuit be filed?
In sum, the process generally requires two steps: 1) A victim first needs to file an administrative claim with the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG). 2) If the JAG denies or fails to make a final disposition of the claim within six months, the individual can file a lawsuit with the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Since Feb. 10, 2023, marked the end of the 180-day waiting period, lawsuits began pouring in and thousands more are expected to follow as claims remain unresolved. By mid-February of this year, a JAG spokesperson told Reuters 20,000 claims have been filed while none have been fully adjudicated.
As of February, 2023, generally speaking, to meet the statue of limitation, claims have to be filed by Aug. 10, 2024. (Note: The statute of limitations may change or there may be some exceptions.)
Do you need help?
If you or a loved one has been affected by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, seek legal counsel. We can help you receive the compensation that you deserve. Schedule a free consultation with our experienced lawyers at Penney & Associates to learn more.