Camp LeJeune Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Time is running out for too many people with cancer and other life-threatening health issues. So much so that attorneys are filing wrongful death lawsuits against the Department of the Navy (DON). One veteran with Parkinson’s disease told CNN that more than a decade had passed between his diagnosis and realizing it is connected with Lejeune—after he received in the mail a health questionnaire from the Marine Corps. CNN also reported that one law firm estimates 20 percent of their cases are now wrongful death lawsuits, including some claims that began as wrongful death suits.
According to CNN, many plaintiffs have passed away from Camp LeJeune’s contaminated water diseases while waiting for the cases to be heard. Cpl. Daniel Thomas Clark, age 63, died from kidney and lung cancer. Civilian Shelby Jean Sholar Hunter succumbed to breast cancer. One day later, 78-year-old Cpl. Alfred Eugene Benson died from bladder cancer and kidney failure. Mike Partain, a male breast cancer survivor who was born at Camp Lejeune, told CBS News that he knows over 130 men “that have the single commonality of exposure to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune and male breast cancer…so many men came forward they made a calendar to help raise awareness, but not everyone is alive today.”
CBS News was at the forefront of raising awareness. Its Emmy-nominated investigative series "Decades of Exposure" interviewed in 2022 a Marine who was based at LeJeune: his child allegedly died from poisoned water. CBS also visited the graves of babies at LeJeune.
Deny, Deny, Deny…
In mid- May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the U.S. House and Senate sent a letter to the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding an update on settlements and asking why claims are taking so long to resolve. After all, the government has already admitted fault to veterans and civilians diagnosed with serious health issues, including Parkinson’s disease and cancer. “Further delay is unacceptable, and it is critically important that JAG and DOJ move quickly to adjudicate or settle these cases in a transparent, efficient manner. Anything less is an injustice,” according to the report.
Mike Partain told CBS News that, with no settlement from the Navy in sight, he and about 1,100 other potential victims have sued the U.S. government in North Carolina. In response, Justice Department lawyers said, "To the extent that the evidence shows that Plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risks of the occasion, any recovery is barred by Plaintiff's assumption of risk." Environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, who has been working with the Camp Lejeune families since 2007, calls their response a delay tactic.
"Very classic behavior that I've seen in the law in every single environmental case, uh, deny, deny, deny, deny," Brockovich told CBS.
LeJeune Litigation Update
Navy Public Affairs Officer Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Keiley said in an email on August 13 to CNN that the DON “ remains committed to addressing the claims of our Service Members, civilian employees, their families, and others who may have been harmed by exposure to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune,” but not one case has gone to trial.
CBS News contacted the DOJ and Navy last month. A Justice Department spokesperson declined it offer of an on-camera interview but provided the following statement: "Alongside our partners at the Department of Navy, we are working to develop a framework that will allow for early resolution of Camp Lejeune Justice Act claims. This framework will offer claimants a voluntary option to resolve their claims efficiently if they choose to take advantage of it. The framework will provide an alternative to the normal administrative claims process or litigation so that those impacted can quickly receive relief."
READ MORE CAMP LEJEUNE CONTAMINATED WATER LEGAL NEWS
Despite the Camp Lejeune Justice Act being passed and despite the Navy admitting guild, the law does not include any automatic right to settlement benefits for veterans and their family members. According to Veterans Affairs, each claimant is still required to file a lawsuit and establish that they were exposed to Camp Lejeune water for at least 30 days between August 1953 and December 31, 1987. It is also necessary that they present expert testimony or support to establish that there is a causal relationship between the Camp Lejeune water and injury, or that such a relationship is at least as likely as not.