For decades, the United States military exposed service members and their families to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Three water treatment plants pumped out contaminated water laden with cancer-causing toxins.
Scores of veterans and their family members have been diagnosed with various illnesses after exposure to dangerous water from the tap and the shower. For the entire time they had exposure to this water, they bathed in it and drank it. The levels of toxins in the water were far greater than the maximum allowable amount, and dangerous chemicals did not take long to build in the body.
Service members and their families had exposure to these toxins for nearly 35 years. The military should have known the potential for danger many years before officials finally discovered the toxic water.
A chemical dump was perilously close to groundwater wells, where various toxic substances were in the ground. There was a dry cleaner that improperly disposed of chemicals that were up gradient from wells that fed other water treatment plants. The military knew of the possibility that other chemicals could permeate these wells in the ground.
Even after the military learned that the Camp Lejeune water was potentially contaminated, it continued to operate these wells for years. It was seven years from when a scientist first raised the potential alarm until the military shut down all of these water treatment plants for good.
However, the military did not share with affected veterans and their families that they had potential exposure to contaminated water. Even as numerous people were diagnosed with serious illnesses, the military still kept this crucial fact from them. It was not until years later that servicemembers first learned of the full extent of their exposure.
By this time, injured service members could not file any type of lawsuit to seek financial compensation from the federal government. Not only was there a judicial doctrine that prevented soldiers and their families from suing the government for any injury stemming from their service, but there was also a North Carolina state law that also prevented lawsuits. North Carolina has a statute of repose that prohibits lawsuits against polluters more than ten years after the last act of pollution. The United States Supreme Court has held that the state law preempts other federal laws that can allow for relief.
To right this grave injustice, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in August 2022. The law was attached to a larger veteran’s health care bill that included funding for those sickened by exposure to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This new law creates a unique federal cause of action that allows injured service members and their families to file lawsuits against the federal government for the harm they suffered from the contaminated Camp Lejeune water. The cause of action is time-limited, lasting only two years after President Biden signed the legislation into law.
To meet the requirements of the law, you must have been at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 to 1987.
You can file a lawsuit if the harm you suffered from exposure to the Camp Lejeune water:
However, there is a procedure that you must follow to potentially be eligible for financial compensation. You cannot directly file a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the Camp Lejeune water. The legislation establishes a procedure similar to lawsuits against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The first step in the claims process is to formally file a claim with the federal government itself. In any case against the government, you must go through the government first before you can do anything further elsewhere. The government has the first right and ability to review your claim to make its own determination of whether it has any merit.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act specifically refers to 28 USC 2675. The law says the claimants must comply with this section of the United States Code before they can file a lawsuit against the federal government. 28 USC 2675 says the following:
An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for monetary damages for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail.
The federal agency will make its own determination of whether the claim has merit. Once it does that, it may make a settlement offer to the claimant. However, we do not know exactly how the government will handle settlement offers or whether the government will automatically pay each claim for the full amount it is worth. The government is establishing procedures in anticipation of the many claims that it will receive. Families will likely need to go through a process that the Department of Defense prescribes to have the government give an initial review of their claim. Your Camp Lejeune lawyer will understand process and guide you through it.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys will tell you that the government can be every bit as bad as an insurance company when making settlement offers. Even though Congress has stated that it expects the government’s total liability for these cases to reach into the billions of dollars, there is nothing to say that it will attempt to fairly compensate each individual claimant. If history is any guide, the government will continue to not do right by people who suffered an injury due to the government’s carelessness.
Alternatively, the government may decide to deny the claim. They may not believe that you have demonstrated the causation necessary to be eligible for financial compensation. If that is the case, you will still have further legal rights as you seek money for your injuries.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act provides that the federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina has exclusive jurisdiction over these cases. If your claim receives a denial, or you cannot agree on financial compensation with the government, you can file your lawsuit in federal court. Then, a jury will decide whether the government will need to pay you and how much.
We are eager to see how the government will treat Camp Lejeune water claims. Although the government previously fought the multidistrict litigation filed a decade ago, there are signs that it may be more receptive to paying financial compensation now. After all, Congress passed the law for a reason, and there may be intense political pressure on the government to pay these claims. Nonetheless, it does not mean that the government will automatically pay each claim for the full amount that it is worth.
Your eligibility for financial compensation is not affected by whether you have already received VA disability benefits. The law specifically clarifies that you can still receive financial compensation, notwithstanding any other prior VA decision on a claim. This part of the law can be helpful because the VA has arbitrarily and unfairly denied many claims connected to Camp Lejeune water.
A recent inspector General’s report has detailed the VA’s incompetence and handling of these claims. Many disability benefits claims have been rejected solely because VA employees did not have adequate training to deal with this issue. While claims administrators in one location did receive training, the VA ended up sending many of these benefit claims to centers across the country, where workers were untrained.
While many advertisements for attorney services reach out to veterans, you do not have to be a veteran to file a lawsuit against the federal government. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act merely says that you needed to be on the base for at least 30 days during the relevant period.
Family members of veterans suffered many injuries because they lived on the base just the same. In fact, the initial legislation that provided health benefits for Camp Lejeune victims was named for a nine-year-old girl who died of cancer after living at Camp Lejeune.
Here is why you need an attorney to file your Camp Lejeune claim:
It costs you nothing to speak with a Camp Lejeune contaminated water attorney. A lawyer is standing by and ready to talk to you about your case and your legal options. Not only is your initial consultation completely free of charge, but you are not obligated to pay any money upfront. Further, you only must pay a lawyer if you are successful in your case. They will receive a portion of your settlement or jury award.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer can result in a better outcome. Otherwise, you may need to deal with the federal government and the legal system alone.
Protect your rights and the well-being of your family by learning more about your legal options today. No one should have to cover expenses of illnesses when the military was to blame. You need an advocate fighting for full compensation for your losses, including all the medical bills you incurred to treat your water-related illness and much more.
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