It’s been more than 70 years since the Camp Lejeune water crisis started, and affected veterans are still waiting for a resolution. For decades, the water at the North Carolina military base was contaminated with dangerous chemicals linked to various cancers and other illnesses. More than a million people were exposed, and many later developed severe health complications. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA) allows veterans, family members, and affected civilians to seek damages from the government. Over 150,000 administrative claims and nearly 1,500 Camp Lejeune lawsuits have been filed, but only a fraction have been settled.
When will Camp Lejeune lawsuits be heard? Attorneys on both sides are currently working on picking the first cases that should go to trial. According to Reuters, trial selection is expected to finish early this year. While Camp Lejeune water exposure has been linked to many health problems, the cases will likely focus on those with the most substantial scientific link, known as presumptive health conditions. These include leukemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, aplastic anemia, and other myelodysplastic syndromes.
The Camp Lejeune Claims Process
The CLJA allows anyone affected by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune to file an administrative claim proving their eligibility and listing the injuries they suffered due to Camp Lejeune’s toxic water exposure. From there, the law gives the government six months to make a settlement offer or deny an administrative claim. If a claimant was dissatisfied with the government’s response or didn’t hear back within the allotted time frame, they could sue.
Considerable delays complicated the process. The government didn’t make any settlement offers in the six months after the claims process began. Many of the veterans injured at Camp Lejeune are elderly, and some of them are suffering from terminal illnesses. The case backlog could mean some claimants might not live to see their deserved compensation. Last year, the Justice Department and Department of the Navy announced the Camp Lejeune Elective Option for some claimants. The program is designed to speed up the claims process. Veterans with a condition presumptively linked to Camp Lejeune exposure can apply for flat-fee payouts. The amount someone is eligible for depends on their conditions and how long they were stationed at Camp Lejeune. Payout amounts range from $100,000 to $550,000 for wrongful death claims.
The payout plan is an appealing choice for anyone who doesn’t want to wait, but the payment from a lawsuit could be notably higher than the elective option offers. Consulting a lawyer can ensure a fair Camp Lejeune settlement. As of January, the government has settled 13 cases through the elective option — a minuscule amount compared to the total case count.
Camp Lejeune Trials
There’s uncertainty about who will try the cases and when the Camp Lejeune lawsuits will go to trial. Attorneys for the government argue that the cases should proceed in front of a judge, but lawyers for the plaintiffs are pushing for jury trials. Government lawyers say that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act allows plaintiffs to seek legal action but doesn’t guarantee them the right to a jury trial; plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that the law should allow for jury trials. It’s unclear which side will be successful. Civil trials take months of preparation, so plaintiffs in Camp Lejeune lawsuits likely aren’t expecting to see settlements anytime soon. Things will probably start to pick up once the court finalizes which cases will move forward. Until then, it’s a waiting game for the thousands of people seeking justice.
The deadline to file a Camp Lejeune claim is quickly approaching for veterans and others affected by the toxic exposure. The CLJA created a two-year filing window that ends on August 10, 2024, so it’s imperative to speak with a Camp Lejeune lawyer as soon as possible if you haven’t already submitted a claim. You can file a claim without legal representation, but consulting with a lawyer is advisable. An attorney can also help you determine whether accepting a settlement under the Camp Lejeune elective option or pursuing a lawsuit is better, depending on your unique circumstances and the extent of your injuries.