Talking about Camp Lejeune attorneys’ fees makes us a little big uncomfortable. But this litigation is too important not to address all of the issues that matter to Camp Lejeune victims and their families, including how much lawyers like us are charging in attorneys’ fees.
There is a big dispute in Congress over Camp Lejeune attorneys’ fees that is getting surprisingly little play in the mainstream media. Earlier this week, a pair of prominent Democratic Congressmen introduced a new bill on Capital Hill that proposes to set a maximum cap of 33% on attorney fees in Camp Lejeune lawsuits filed under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA). Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Mark Takano (D-CA) brought the new bill to the floor under the title of Protect Access to Justice for Veterans Act which imposes a new federal law specifically addressing attorney’s fees associated with Camp Lejeune settlements and claims.
Aside from imposing a cap of 33% on contingency fee percentages for Cap Lejeune lawyers, the new bill would also create specific rules and obligations regarding the way attorneys disburse the funds of any judgment or award to the victims before compensating themselves for their services.
In a statement, Rep. Nadler explained that the new bill is aimed at “bad actors who may seek to take advantage of the people harmed at Camp Lejeune for financial gain.” Nadler is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Tanko is the ranking Democrat on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and was a strong supporter of the CLJA.
New Bill Would Amend the CLJA
If passed, the new bill proposed by Nadler and Takano bill would formally amend the CLJA, which was enacted last August as part of the larger Honoring Our PACT Act, that sought to improve healthcare access for veterans exposed to toxins during their service. Supporters of the new bill insist that it is necessary to protect “vulnerable veterans from financial exploitation.”
Under the CLJA, anyone who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, can bring a Camp Lejeune lawsuit for damages for injuries related to the toxic water at Lejeune. The passage of the CLJA spawned an unprecedented wave of attorney advertising. Plaintiffs’ lawyers invested millions in marketing and advertising that flooded the airways.
The overwhelming nature of the lawyer advertising for Camp Lejeune created a negative image sparked and intense public scrutiny. Anecdotal stories (which may or may not have been true) started circulating about greedy plaintiffs’ lawyers charging innocent veterans 50% contingency fees for Camp Lejeune cases. We never saw any particular evidence supporting the idea of attorneys charging 50% which would seem easy enough to prove. Someone show me a retainer agreement. But you have seen the horde of lawyers, many of which borrowed tons of money to advertise on television and social media…so it is possible.
All of the insanity has led to tons of misinformation. There were also concerns raised in the media by some writers who knew just enough to be dangerous that Camp Lejeune victims would end up losing VA benefits if they brought a claim under the CLJA (which was never true) and the VA had to make it clear.
Proposed Rules Under the New Law
Nadler and Takano’s proposed bill would set a maximum cap on Camp Lejeune attorney’s fees at 20% if the case is resolved in a settlement during the 6-month administrative claim stage. For Camp Lejeune cases that get filed as civil lawsuits, the bill will cap attorney’s fees at 33%.
In addition to the caps on attorneys fees, the new law would require attorneys to deposit all funds received in Camp Lejeune cases into a trust or escrow account and then promptly disbursed to the client. The attorney will not be allowed to disburse any of those funds to pay themselves until the client funds are disbursed. The same rule already exists in most states for handling of clients funds, but the new bill would incorporate the rule into the federal code for CLJA cases.
Senate Bill to Cap Camp Lejeune Attorneys’ Fees
The bill introduced in the House by Tanko and Nadler is a counter-proposal in response to another bill introduced in the Senate back in November which also seeks to impose a cap on attorneys’ fees. The Senate bill proposes a much stricter cap on fees than the version put forth in the House.
Under the Senate bill, attorneys fees for Camp Lejeune cases would be capped at 12% for cases that settled in the 6-month administrative claim phase, and 17% for CLJA cases that are resolved after a civil lawsuit is filed. The Senate bill is being called the Protect Camp Lejeune Victims Ensnared by Trial-lawyers’ Scams (VETS) Act (also abbreviated as the less inflammatory Protect Camp Lejeune VETS Act) (S.5130).
Will Either of the New Bills Pass?
It is not at all clear whether either of these new bills will get passed by Congress. When the original CLJA was being debated on Capital Hill, there was a provision included that would have imposed a 25% cap on attorneys’ fees (the same cap that applies to claims under the FTCA). During the legislative process, however, that provision was removed and the CLJA was eventually passed without any cap on attorney’s fees.
Considering that a fee cap was already considered and rejected last year, it is difficult to see how things have changed enough to expect a different result with the new bill. The driving force behind the new law is the negative public reaction to all the lawyer advertising. Camp Lejeune lawyers’ ads have already started calming down somewhat. But the bitterness, somewhat understandably, remains.
It is also worth noting, that it has been almost four months since the Senate bill was introduced back in November and since then no action whatsoever has been taken to advance the bill.
What If My Agreement with My Lawyer is 40% for My Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?
These bills would rewrite the retainer agreement between the lawyer and client with respect to the Camp Lejeune attorneys fees. So federal law would trump the contact you have with your lawyer. So if you lawyer does not now on the future drop you case in part because of lower attorneys’ fees, you would arguably benefit from this bill. For people that have more difficult claims, the fear is the lower attorneys’ fees will lead lawyers to drop cases and decrease the quality of lawyers taking new cases.
Lawrence Montreuil, Legislative Director for the American Legion, testified before the Senate subcommittee on the issue of Camp Lejeune attorneys’ fees. He seems to understand the need to strike a balance between protecting veterans from scams – which we know are out there – and victims having the right to pay attorneys fees to attract the best Camp Lejeune lawyer they can find. So while Montreuil supports the Senate bill, he made clear the American Legion is less interested in what the final cap number is than they are in just having a cap in place that balances these competing interests.
Contact Our Camp Lejeune Lawyers
It is not too late to file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit. Our Camp Lejeune attorneys are accepting new cases from anyone who meets the following criteria:
- You served, lived, or worked on the Camp Lejeune base for at least one month between 1953 and 1987.
- You have been subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, or any other condition linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
You can contact us today at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation or reach out to our Camp Lejeune lawyers online.