Guide to Filing For Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Negligence Lawsuit
The Camp Lejeune water contamination issue is massive. Harmful chemicals were found in the water supplied at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from the 1950s to 1980s. The contaminated water was used for drinking or bathing by military personnel, their families, and civilians living or working at the base that time.
As claims and lawsuits for compensation for diseases or deaths linked to the exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune pour in, the scope of the impact of the contamination becomes clearer and wider. Then there’s the real effect on the health and lives of the affected people and their families.
This guide aims to help those exposed to the Camp Lejeune water contamination know their options to seek compensation for their situation. Pertinent procedures on filing a lawsuit arising from the incident and helpful resources are available in this guide.
Background Context of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Issue
Camp Lejeune (luh-jern) is a military training facility located in Onslow County, North Carolina. The camp has an area of about 153,439 acres and includes Onslow Beach for amphibious training.
Construction at the camp began in 1941, and in 1942, the base camp was named after John A. Lejeune, 13th commandant of the Marine Corps.
It is considered the East Coast’s largest Marine Corps base. About 170,000 people, including active-duty and retired personnel, families, and civilian employees, call the base and its surrounding area home.
Understanding the Water Contamination
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), it was in 1982 when the Marine Corps found out about certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) being present in the drinking water from two water treatment plants at Lejeune.
- Tarawa Terrace: Perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene (PCE) was discovered in the water from this treatment plant. The cause of the contamination was traced to ABC One-Hour Cleaners, a dry-cleaning facility located off-base, who improperly disposed of PCE. Per the ATSDR’s analysis, PCE concentrations found in the water at the Tarawa Terrace treatment plant exceeded five parts per billion (ppb) set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the maximum contaminant level (MCL) “for 346 months during November 1957 through February 1987.”
- Hadnot Point: Trichloroethylene or TCE was found in this water treatment plant, along with TCE degradation products, PCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride. Waste disposal sites, industrial area spills, and leaking underground storage tanks were cited as reasons for the contamination of the supply wells. Per the ATSDR, one VOC exceeded its MCL in drinking water between August 1953 and January 1985.
Moreover, Holcomb Boulevard began operating in 1972 and used contaminated water from Hadnot Point on occasions when (a) Holcomb Boulevard was shut down in 1985 and (b) there was high demand for water during summer months from 1972 to 1985.
According to the ATSDR, the most contaminated wells at Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point were shut down in 1985. In 1989, the EPA placed ABC One-Hour Cleaners and Camp Lejeune as Superfund sites. According to its ERP public site, Camp Lejeune has performed environmental studies and cleanup activities under the Environmental Restoration Program of the Department of Defense.
Impact of Water Contamination
The subject water treatment plants primarily served family housing. “As many as one million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water,” according to the ATSDR.
The ATSDR has assessed the health effects linked with VOCs. While exposure to VOCs would not necessarily result in people developing health problems due to factors such as level and amount of exposure, evidence for causation for a certain VOC has been sufficient for these diseases:
|Kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma,congenital heart defects
|Leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Understanding Negligence and Its Legal Implications
Negligence occurs when a party has failed its duty of care resulting in harm to someone.
For a plaintiff to prove that the other party has been negligent in its action (or non-action), they’ll have to satisfy certain elements: the other party had a responsibility to act carefully (duty of care) and didn’t live up to that responsibility (breach of duty of care), the plaintiff was harmed or injured in some way (harm), the other party’s failure to act carefully directly caused the harm (proximate cause), or the harm wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the other party’s actions or failure to act (cause-in-fact).
Negligence laws vary by state, and the process for suing a private company for negligence over a personal injury or property damage is different from that of a government agency.
How It Applies to Camp Lejeune’s Case
The Camp Lejeune water contamination issue involves claims of a federal government entity or its employees being negligent in informing victims about the presence of contaminants in the water, as records show that the Marine Corps knew about it.
Veterans and civilians can seek relief for harm caused by their being exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA).
The existence of CLJA means that the government has given up its usual protection against being sued for issues related to Camp Lejeune. This law lets people file lawsuits within a certain time frame.
Under the CLJA and Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), one has to file an administrative claim with the Department of Navy first before filing a lawsuit in federal court.
CLJA is Section 804 of the landmark “Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022,” which addresses toxic exposures affecting veterans during their service.
Potential Legal Outcomes for Such Cases
Proving negligence may not be the focal point in CLJA lawsuits, which some plaintiffs in court proceedings have argued are not negligence lawsuits.
The plaintiff must prove that their personal injury was caused by exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
While you may not need to hire a lawyer to prepare your CLJA claim with more details below, you’ll need to consult and hire a lawyer to help you with your CLJA lawsuit.
Preparing For Your Lawsuit
As of mid-October, the Navy has received more than 117,000 CLJA claims. In September 2023, the Department of Justice and the Navy announced the creation of an elective option to streamline the process of resolving the Lejeune water contamination claims.
Filing a CLJA claim for personal injury or wrongful death rests on these key points under this option, which supplements relevant processes for resolving the claims:
- One lived or worked at Camp Lejeune, including Marine Corps Air State New River, for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. Thirty days is the minimum duration of exposure.
- The exposure to contaminated water at Lake Lejeune has resulted in a qualifying injury classified into two tiers with corresponding settlement amounts:
|30 to 364 days
|1 year to 5 years
|More than 5 years
|Kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemias, and bladder cancer
|Multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease / end-stage renal disease, and systemic sclerosis / systemic scleroderma
Another $100,000 will be offered for a qualifying injury that resulted in death. A
settlement offer may reach up to $550,000.
- The injury is required to be first diagnosed or treated before August 10, 2022, which is the enactment date of the CLJA.
Gathering Factual Evidence
While you are not required to submit documents together with your administrative claim, the Navy may ask you to send them later for review, so prepare these documents:
1. Medical records, certificates, treatment notes, VA disability benefits, and other documentation signed or certified by a medical doctor
2. Military service records and pertinent documents showing residency or employment at Camp Lejeune during the time of exposure within the specified period
There may be other documents that you’ll need to submit before a court of law, so consult a lawyer to help you obtain and preserve documentation.
Emotional and Psychological Preparation
Working with a lawyer can shed light on the complexities of a lawsuit, court procedures, and legal technicalities and help build a strong case in your favor. Get clear answers about what you need to do and prepare to pursue the case.
Knowing all those things prior to filing your lawsuit can make you more confident about its outcome and your chances of success. The Camp Lejeune lawsuits are unprecedented, so it would really help to have a capable guide throughout this legal battle. The right legal support can help you manage expectations, prepare for the emotional toll of the legal process, and offer the strategic advice necessary to pursue justice effectively.
The Legal Process for Filing a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit
You have two years from the CLJA enactment or August 10, 2024, to file a claim with the Navy. And you may file a lawsuit if your claim has been denied or remains unresolved six months after filing it.
Finding the Right Lawyer
The right lawyer is ideally one who has legal experience and expertise in personal injury or wrongful death claims, factoring in that the CLJA is relatively new and similar lawsuits are in their early stages. Your counsel will represent you in court, prepare your court filings, and calculate damages, among other duties as agreed between parties.
Initiating the lawsuit
Your lawyer will file a complaint with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which has the exclusive jurisdiction for CLJA lawsuits.
The complaint will set out the reason/s for filing the lawsuit, the allegations against the defendant (the government), and your requested relief.
What to Expect during Court Proceedings
The defendant will file its answer to the complaint. Parties may be legally asked to present documents relevant to the lawsuit from each other. Parties can try to resolve the lawsuit and settle it out of court. The case could also go to trial.
As of August 2023, more than 1,110 lawsuits pertaining to the Camp Lejeune contaminated drinking water have been filed in North Carolina, according to Bloomberg Law. Trials for the lawsuits are slated to begin in 2024.
Case Studies: Examples of Successful Negligence Lawsuits
Let’s look into two landmark cases involving negligence, liability, etc., in the US.
1. Asbestos Litigation. In 1969, industrial insulation worker Clarence Borel, who had mesothelioma, filed a lawsuit against asbestos insulation manufacturers. The success of this case paved the way for thousands more to sue over asbestos exposure and contracting asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other diseases as a result.
What can be gleaned from the asbestos litigation is that it has resulted in laws and regulations that have limited the use of asbestos. Asbestos litigation is ongoing. Between the early 1970s to late 2002, over 730,000 people had filed compensation claims for asbestos-related injuries and these cost defendants more than $70 billion, according to RAND Corporation. The widely quoted average asbestos settlement is $1 million to $1.4 million.
2. Bullock vs. Philip Morris. In 2002, the tobacco company was ordered to pay $28 billion in punitive damages to Betty Bullock. While the award was later slashed to $28 million, the earlier jury decision that the tobacco maker was partially responsible for Ms. Bullock’s lung cancer was upheld.
Here, the plaintiff successfully produced proof to support her case against the tobacco maker. One is the company being well aware of cigarettes contributing to the development of lung cancer and the highly addictive nature of nicotine.
Challenges in Filing for Negligence Lawsuits and How to Overcome Them
Consider these potential hurdles in a negligence lawsuit and solutions to overcome them:
Hurdle 1: The plaintiff has the burden of proof in the usual negligence lawsuit. They’ll have to show that the other party was at fault, and because of this negligence, they were injured or contracted the disease and are entitled to compensation.
To satisfactorily meet this burden of proof, you’ll have to produce compelling evidence in support of your claims and refute those made by the defendant. This evidence, be it documents or testimonies, has to meet admissibility standards.
Hurdle 2: Court costs are only a fraction of the total cost of litigation. One also has to pay for lawyers, expert witnesses, and other expenses as they arise in the lawsuit.
As part of hiring a lawyer, ask them for a realistic estimate of the cost of litigating your lawsuit, including scenarios such as entering into a settlement or going to trial. Also be aware of attorney fee caps. For example, the DOJ has asked that lawyers representing CLJA claimants who’ll pursue legal action will get fees capped according to the rules of the FTCA.
Your lawyer is in the best position to discuss the specifics and merits of your case and deals with potential twists and turns.
Support and Resources for Victims
This section lists support networks and helpful resources for veterans, civilians, and their families affected by the Camp Lejeune water contamination.
- The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten has discussion groups for Marines and Naval personnel and civilians who were exposed to the contaminated drinking water.
- The official website of Marine Corps Lejeune-New River has crisis and life helplines for military and veterans.
- Lejeune Justice consists of veterans service organizations and persons affected by the water contamination at the base camp and has been working for the passage of the now law PACT Act that includes CLJA.
These key resources pertaining to health effects, claims, and benefits can also help you become more informed of your case against Camp Lejeune:
- ATSDR’s assessment of the evidence for the drinking water contaminants at Camp Lejeune and specific cancers and other diseases
- DOJ and Navy’s public guidance on elective option for Camp Lejeune Justice Act Claims
- Navy’s Camp Lejeune Justice Act claims
- Navy’s CLJA claims procedures
- VA disability compensation and benefits according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs
The Camp Lejeune water contamination is both a personal and public concern. It involves thousands of military personnel and civilians whose health and lives were or may have been put at risk because of the toxic water they have been using for decades. The contaminants may have caused them to develop or likely develop diseases like cancer and leukemia.
If you are one of those potential victims of the Camp Lejeune drinking water contamination, act now. Learn how to prepare your lawsuit and pursue it for the best possible outcome.
Getting justice for your situation won’t be easy—there’ll be hurdles, expected or not, along the way. You’ll need to brace yourself for what’s to come, work with people who can best help you, and keep in mind that support and resources for victims are available.
Am I eligible to file a claim or lawsuit under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more during the period of August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and developed a medical condition as a result of being exposed to the contaminated water during the specified time frame, you can file a claim for compensation with the Navy. Claims for wrongful deaths and in utero injuries may also be brought under the CLJA.
Is the CLJA claim necessary to file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
Yes, according to the Act, you need to file an administrative claim before filing a lawsuit in a federal court. The CLJA claim will set out the basis of your claim and nature of injury with supporting documentation establishing the link between the injury and the exposure to the contaminated water.
What is the deadline for filing a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
The deadline for filing CLJA claims is on or before August 10, 2024. You may file your lawsuit after your claim has been denied or unresolved six months after filing it with the Navy.
Do I need a lawyer to file my Camp Lejeune claim?
You can initiate the claim yourself or with the help of a lawyer using the official CLJA form.
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Today in 2002: California jury awards $28 billion in damages against Phillip Morris | Legal Blog. (2022, July 6). Thomson Reuters Law Blog. https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/blog/2002-phillip-morris/
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Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022. (2022). https://www.congress.gov/117/plaws/publ168/PLAW-117publ168.pdf
Sullivan delivers for sick marines: DOJ begins implementing Camp Lejeune trial lawyer fee caps. (2023, October 30). https://www.sullivan.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sullivan-delivers-for-sick-marines-doj-begins-implementing-camp-lejeune-trial-lawyer-fee-caps