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Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Trials To Be Heard By Judge, Not a Jury

Between 1953 and 1987, the tap water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was contaminated with toxins, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that infiltrated the marine base’s water system. Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have put the number of individuals, both military personnel and civilians, affected by the contamination at one million, with many spending the bulk of their lives with debilitating conditions, ranging from several types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, renal disease to birth defects and infertility.

For years, many Camp Lejeune toxic water victims have held onto hope that they would be given a chance to share their story in a courtroom, in front of a jury that would determine fair compensation for their injuries. When President Biden signed into law what is recognized as the PACT Act (the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act ), and within it the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), it looked like victims were close to having their hope realized.

selective focus closeup of a wooden gavel held by a judge after verdict

The CLJA gave those injured by the contaminated water and family members of those who died due to Camp Lejeune illnesses the ability to file Camp Lejeune lawsuits. The U.S. government opened a two-year window to file a Camp Lejeune claim. According to the new law, if a victim’s claim is denied, or if a claim is not resolved within six months, they can move forward with a Camp Lejeune lawsuit in court. 

However, despite the urging from many plaintiffs who hoped to have a face-to-face meeting with jurors, a group of federal judges has ruled that Camp Lejeune trials will only be heard by a judge. They will not be assigned a jury trial. 

The ruling was handed down in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina by judges whose current assignment is to handle the Camp Lejeune Justice Act lawsuits. 

As the ruling explains, while the CLJA allows victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination to file lawsuits in specific situations, it does not specifically allow for jury trials. 

The judges stated, “Congress did not clearly and unequivocally depart from its usual practice of not permitting a jury trial against the United States” when it passed the 2022 legislation to compensate victims of the contamination.

The Current Camp Lejeune Claims Situation

Since the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was enacted in August of 2022, more than 160,000 CLJA claims have been filed and are currently being processed through the U.S. Navy, within its Judge Advocate General’s Office. However, because the government has been slow in processing the claims, only a fraction have been settled.

Along with that, in the court in North Carolina, there are already 1,500 lawsuits pending, and there is potential for that number to increase. 

While lawyers for plaintiffs have said they plan on appealing the decision to not allow jury trials, news reports have also pointed out that because so much time has gone by, there are some victims, and loved ones of victims, including Lori Freshwater, who are accepting of the judge’s decision in hopes it will speed up the pace of resolving the claims and lawsuits once-and-for-all. 

Freshwater is a victim advocate who runs a Facebook group geared toward those harmed at Camp Lejeune. Her family lived at Camp Lejeune in the 1970s and 1980s, and Freshwater’s mother suffered from leukemia and grew frustrated towards the end of her life knowing she would die before she was able to present her struggle inside a court of law. 

“I hope we do not delay with more appeals and instead move forward with what we have for the people who need it the most,” said Freshwater, whose mother died in 2013.

What You Need to Know: Filing a Camp Lejeune Claim, Settlement Options, Benefit of Hiring an Attorney

Here is a roundup of necessary information concerning Camp Lejeune claims and lawsuits.

While those who have already filed lawsuits are waiting to hear whether or not there will be an appeal filed over the jury trials, it is important for victims of the water contamination who have not yet taken action under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act to adhere to the hard-and-fast deadline. Any person who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, and has suffered injuries due to exposure (including in utero exposure) should file a Camp Lejeune claim, but they must do so by August 10.

To file a CLJA claim, you can visit the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU). If a claim is denied and a settlement is not reached, a Camp Lejeune lawsuit can be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. 

Victims should keep in mind that last year, the U.S. Navy and Department of Justice announced a plan called the Camp Lejeune Elective Option (EO) which offers a payout settlement for those who have a presumptive health condition. These conditions include kidney, liver, and bladder cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkison’s disease, end-stage renal disease, systemic sclerosis/scleroderma, and multiple myeloma. The compensation amounts vary for EO payments. Along with which condition the victim suffers from, the EO also depends on how long the person was exposed to the toxic water. To be offered a settlement through the EO, the person still needs to go through the Camp Lejeune claims process, and once a person accepts an EO, they forfeit their right to sue the government.

An experienced Camp Lejeune attorney can help someone decide the best way to move forward on receiving compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Along with just ensuring a claim is filed correctly to receive a settlement, they can also determine if a payout offer is the best avenue or if a lawsuit, with a chance at a bigger reward, is more worthwhile to pursue. And, if a lawsuit is the better choice, they will have the expertise on how to negotiate for the right outcome.