Hundreds of thousands of veterans, their family members, and civilian workers who served and lived at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from 1953 to 1987 were exposed to contaminated water containing harmful chemicals. Tragically, many of those who were exposed to the contaminated water on the base were later diagnosed with certain types of cancer and other adverse health effects.
Individuals who were diagnosed with certain serious health conditions after living and working at Camp Lejeune might be able to recover compensation through a federal claim if a new bill, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, is approved by Congress and signed into law.
To qualify for a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit, the plaintiff must have resided at the Marine Corps base for a period of at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. This includes active-duty service members and veterans, family members of veterans who lived at the camp, civilian staff, families of deceased individuals, and even individuals who were in-utero at the time of exposure. Individuals who are dishonorably discharged might not qualify for a lawsuit even if they meet the other eligibility requirements.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
Victims of water contamination at Camp Lejeune currently have no legal recourse to pursue compensation for damages they suffered after living on the base. Under the 2012 Janey Ensminger Act, which was signed into law during the Obama administration, the family members of veterans who were diagnosed with specific cancers and other diseases after living at Camp Lejeune have the ability to recover healthcare benefits through Veterans Affairs. However, they are still time-barred from bringing a claim against the government and other potentially liable parties because of North Carolina’s statute of repose against polluters.
The statute of repose against polluters in North Carolina allows victims just ten years to file a lawsuit for compensation. And because the clock on the statute of repose begins ticking when the defendant first engages in negligent conduct, the statutory deadline passed long before the water at Camp Lejeune was determined to be contaminated. The new bill aims to remove the legal barrier that currently prevents victims of the base’s contaminated water from taking legal action.
Steps in the Camp Lejeune Legal Process
Plaintiffs in Camp Lejeune water contamination cases will likely be filing their lawsuits in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. However, there are numerous steps that plaintiffs must take before they file a complaint in federal court.
- Gather evidence – One of the first steps that victims will need to take is gathering evidence to prove that their condition was caused by water contamination on the base. Under the Janey Ensminger Act, victims do not have to prove a direct link between the water contamination and their condition to receive healthcare from VA. They merely have to show that they lived on the base for at least 30 days during the allotted time frame. However, in a civil lawsuit, victims will need to demonstrate that the government or another defendant was negligent and that their negligence led directly to the plaintiff’s condition. Evidence that a plaintiff could use to prove their case includes medical records, documentation that demonstrates residency at Camp Lejeune, medical bills, military service records, disability benefits documentation, records of Veterans Affairs compensation benefits, and travel records.
- Hire a lawyer – While you are not required to hire an attorney to represent you, you will significantly improve your chances of obtaining a positive outcome if you have legal representation. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice, represent you in court, advocate for your interests, defend your rights, and negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party, among other things.
- Document losses – For your lawsuit to be successful, you will need to show that you suffered compensable losses. Compensable losses can be financial or non-financial and might include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. It can be challenging to document losses on your own, particularly when it comes to non-financial ones. A skilled lawyer can help you quantify your non-financial losses and assess the total value of your claim.
- Identify the liable party or parties involved – Determining liability is another crucial step in filing a civil lawsuit. An experienced attorney can help you identify all possible sources of compensation, which might include the federal government, businesses that may have contaminated the water supply through negligence, certain government departments and regulatory agencies, and other negligent entities or individuals.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is inching its way toward being passed into law. If it becomes law, the attorneys at TruLaw will be prepared to take on cases and help victims secure the financial relief they deserve.
It is possible that there will be a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Camp Lejeune water contamination victims. In 2011, a Camp Lejeune class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court against the United States government, but the case was dismissed due to the statute of repose. If the new bill passes, then it is likely that any class-action suit would proceed because the statute of repose will not apply to the Camp Lejeune water contamination cases.
Until the final legislation is available, it’s not possible for TruLaw to know the exact process and rules for filing a Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit. It is possible that the new bill will make it easier for plaintiffs to bring a lawsuit, but if it doesn’t, attorneys representing Camp Lejeune plaintiffs might initially have to file with the Department of the Navy under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The federal government must respond to the claim within six months. If the government issues a denial, plaintiffs could then sue the United States government in federal court in North Carolina.
If you suffered adverse health issues after being exposed to contaminated water while living at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, TruLaw can help. Visit our Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Lawsuit page and get an instant case assessment.