Last year Congress passed a new law to allow victims of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune the right to get compensation. Since then, over 15,000 former Camp Lejeune residents and employees have filed claims, and the number continues to grow. It has been almost six months since the law was passed, and the first claimants will be eligible to file lawsuits.
In this post, we will discuss the following:
- how the Camp Lejeune water contamination litigation has developed
- where things are right now with these claims, and
- what to expect in this ongoing mass tort moving forward in February 2023.
Camp Lejeune Background
The Camp Lejeune story dates to the 1980s when water supply systems at the Camp Lejeune Marine base and training ground in North Carolina were found to contain cancer-causing chemicals. The contamination resulted from fuel and other chemical contaminants seeping into the groundwater supplies.
Subsequent testing and studies determined that the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated from 1953 to 1987 and that nearly 1 million people who lived or worked at the base were exposed. Additional studies identified many diseases and health conditions that appeared to be linked to exposure to the contaminated water at Lejeune.
About ten years ago, many Camp Lejeune victims (mostly Marine Corps veterans) filed civil lawsuits against the government for injuries related to the water. These lawsuits over the contamination languished for years. In 2016, a federal judge dismissed over 900 Camp Lejeune lawsuits, ruling that they were time-barred under North Carolina law. That appeared to be the end of the Camp Lejeune water contamination story.
Congress Passes CLJA
After their civil lawsuits were dismissed in 2016, a group of Camp Lejeune veterans and their lawyers began a grassroots lobbying effort to get Congress to pass a new law to allow the Lejeune victims the right to seek compensation. Their efforts quickly gained support among politicians on both sides of the aisle, who are always eager to appeal to military veterans.
After a months-long back-and-forth political process, Congress eventually passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) as part of a much larger veterans bill known as the PACT Act. The CLJA allows former residents or employees of Camp Lejeune to seek damages if they were exposed for at least 30 days to the toxic water between August 1953 and December 1987.
Thousands File CLJA Claims
As soon as the CLJA was signed into law on August 10, 2022, thousands of Camp Lejeune victims filed claims for compensation with the Navy JAG office. 3,000 CLJA claims were filed in the first month, and by January 2023, a spokesperson for JAG stated that over 15,000 CLJA claims had been filed.
JAG has six months to adjudicate each claim after it is filed. If JAG does nothing with the claim or the claimant is not satisfied with the decision, they can go on to file a civil lawsuit. Early in the process, many Camp Lejeune victims were hopeful that JAG would use the 6-month administrative claim phase to make settlement offers on valid claims. Unfortunately, that never happened.
It has already been nearly 6-months since the CLJA was passed and the first claims were filed. To date, however, JAG has not done anything with these claims, and JAG is still not even accepting supporting documentation for CLJA claims. It now looks like the JAG administrative claim process will be a mandatory delay period.
New Wave of CLJA Lawsuits Expected in February
For the earliest CLJA claims, the 6-month deadline before claimants can file a civil lawsuit is set to expire in less than two weeks. Since JAG has not done anything with these claims, they will all be filed civil lawsuits in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
That means that the Eastern District of North Carolina is about to see a massive wave of Camp Lejeune lawsuits that will start next month and continue for the foreseeable future. At that point, responsibility for dealing with the CLJA claims will pass from JAG to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Litigating all of the CLJA cases will not be an option. First, there are too many cases for the DOJ to defend each separately. Second, claims under the CLJA are subject to a lower evidentiary burden which means it will be difficult and, in some cases, nearly impossible for the DOJ to mount an effective defense anyways.
So What is Going to Happen with the Camp Lejeune Claims in 2023?
The question everyone involved in the Camp Lejeune lawsuits is asking now is how the DOJ will deal with the massive influx of civil lawsuits filed under the CLJA. In our view, there are essentially two potential scenarios that could play out.
The first potential scenario for the CLJA claims in 2023 is that the DOJ will adopt some structured mass settlement program. The settlement program is very similar to what we often see in consolidated mass torts, where plaintiffs are ranked into settlement tiers based on specific qualifying criteria (e.g., type of injury, the severity of the injury, etc.). Plaintiffs in each settlement tier then get settlement offers are pre-determined amounts based on the assessment of their case.
This option would enable the DOJ to resolve a large percentage of the CLJA claims without any litigation. It would also offer victims the fastest way to get financial compensation for their injuries. The problem is that implementing this type of global settlement program would require strong leadership from some higher authority (such as the Attorney General).
The second scenario would be that the CLJA cases get consolidated into something similar to multidistrict litigation (MDL) that we often see in mass torts. In this scenario, all CLJA cases would be centralized and assigned to a single Judge in North Carolina for consolidated pre-trial discovery and other proceedings.
If this happens, we could see something similar to a bellwether trial program, much like in mass tort MDLs. For example, we could see a bellwether trial for test cases involving the different diseases linked to Camp Lejeune (e.g., Parkinson’s Disease, Lung Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Bladder Cancer, etc.). The DOJ would then use the results of the bellwether trials to develop a structured mass settlement program similar to what we discussed above.
The problem with this scenario is that it would arguably be a pointless waste of time, further delaying compensation payments to Camp Lejeune victims. Do we really need to go through two years of discovery and two years of bellwether trials to come up with a reasonable settlement value for bladder cancer claims? Of course not.
Contact Our Camp Lejeune Lawyers
Our Camp Lejeune lawyers are offering legal assistance to individuals who were harmed by exposure to Camp Lejeune contamLejeune-contaminated the following criteria:
- You served, lived, or worked at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987.
- You were subsequently diagnosed with leukemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or any other conditions our lawyers laid out above.
Contact our Camp Lejeune attorneys today for a free consultation at 800-553-8082 or get a free, no-obligation online consultation. Our attorneys only get paid if you do.