The Camp Lejeune Attorney Fees Debate and Navigating the Claims Process
In August 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA). This law makes it possible for victims of the contaminated water at the marine base to file a legal claim against the government. While the measure is a huge victory for Camp Lejeune veterans and their families, it has also led to a slew of lawyers flooding the airwaves with lawsuit advertisements.
Whether via a nightly newscast, weekly NFL game, or daily talk show, chances are you have heard the commercials. A bellowing voice calls out to potential victims who lived at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and are suffering from illnesses associated with the toxins (or who had loved ones who did). The commercial goes on to list the various adverse health effects, including cancer, renal disease, Parkinson’s disease, and a host of other debilitating conditions. While stressing that victims deserve compensation for their suffering, the ad inevitably points out the particular law firm’s success in eye-popping dollar amounts.
Late last year, the number of advertisements (and the cost associated with them) was a significant piece of the argument by several lawmakers to put a cap on lawyer fees related to Camp Lejeune claims. Before Congress ended its 2022 run, lawmakers led by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) proposed the amendment to the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), limiting how much lawyers could charge their clients.
Sullivan proposed a cap of ten percent on CLJA cases filed before August 10 and two percent on those following that date. The heavily-debated issue did not result in an approved amendment when the House passed the final version of the NDAA on December 8. However, the debate is expected to resurface as Congress begins its new year.
Although there are some attorneys who unfortunately use their power purely for professional gain and victim exploitation, there are countless others throughout the country who genuinely believe in fighting for victims’ peace of mind and well-deserved compensation for the damages inflicted upon them by the government’s failures at Camp Lejeune.
It is important that those victims, and the American taxpayers, understand both sides of the issue.
Sullivan’s Amendment and Reactions
“Since the passage of the (CLJA),” said Sullivan in a press release on his amendment, “trial lawyers across the country have unleashed hundreds of millions of dollars in television ads and social media campaigns, seeking out Marines and other victims for Camp Lejeune-related cases and charging contingency fees reportedly as high as 60 percent.”
Sullivan’s amendment and the new cap amounts were welcomed by some, including Lawrence Montreuil, the legislative director for the American Legion. Montreuil told Bloomberg Law that fees exceeding ten percent are excessive, especially given that the CLJA restricts the government from mounting a traditional defense in court, and law firms are charging fees as much as half of the plaintiff’s final award. But U.S. code prohibits attorneys from taking fees in excess of 20 percent in any cases filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act that settles without a trial.
Some who oppose Sullivan’s amendment believe it would actually prevent some victims from receiving the full compensation they deserve.
While Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would work with Sullivan on a compromise, he made it clear he disagreed with the proposed caps. During the discussion of the amendment, Durbin pointed out many victims need additional help provided best by seasoned professionals, particularly if the CLJA claim ends up in court. “You aren’t going to get a competent attorney to represent Marines at 2 percent,” he said.
Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine drill instructor whose daughter died of cancer nine years after she was conceived at Camp Lejeune in 1976, also believes the proposed caps were extreme and said the proposal has to do with politics. “No attorney is going to touch a case with a 10 percent cap,” said Ensminger. “The truth is that when the PACT Act was voted on, it was only Republicans who voted against it…now they’re trying to kill it through the back door.”
Camp Lejeune Justice Act and When to Hire a Lawyer
Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has offered disability benefits and medical coverage for certain illnesses associated with the Camp Lejeune water contamination for several years, it was not until the inclusive PACT Act that victims could begin seeking compensation for pain and suffering and other damages from the federal government. (Victims can still file a Camp Lejeune claim if they already receive disability benefits and support from the VA.)
Up to one million people could have been exposed to the toxins at Camp Lejeune. According to the Congressional Budget Office, an economic scorekeeper for Congress, the CLJA could cost the government about $6.1 billion over ten years.
Camp Lejune claims must be filed with the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit. If the claim is denied or isn’t settled, the CLJA allows victims to file a civil lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The deadline to file a claim is August 10, 2024.
When searching for a Camp Lejeune attorney to assist you with a CLJA claim, keep these tips in mind:
- Take advantage of the free consultation offered by any competent personal injury attorney. You should meet the person who will represent you and ensure you feel comfortable with them.
- The law firm should not charge any fees up front, and any charges that will be collected later should be clear in the contract. Read it carefully before moving forward with the claim.
- Ask the prospective lawyer how frequently you will be updated and consulted throughout the process and what is expected of you.
- If a claim settlement is not reached and you must go to trial, your lawyer should have a successful trial record. They should also have specific experience in injury and wrongful death cases involving toxic exposure or water contamination and be able to prove the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune caused the harm.
While Camp Lejeune contamination victims can file a claim on their own, an experienced Camp Lejeune lawyer will make the process easier. If a claim is denied, they can ensure a lawsuit is filed and filed correctly. A good and honest attorney will make the process easier and more likely to reach a successful outcome.