But the anticipated flood of lawsuits has been more of a trickle. Roughly 200 have been filed to date. What’s happening?
Bad news first – as many as a million exposed to toxic chemicals
As many as a million Marines and civilians who lived or worked at Camp LeJeune during that roughly 35-year- period (that ended roughly 35 years ago) may have been exposed to water containing cancer-causing chemicals like benzine, vinyl chloride, trichlorethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to:
- kidney cancer;
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
- multiple myeloma;
- bladder cancer;
- liver cancer;
- increased rates of birth defects and stillbirth;
- end stage renal disease;
- chemically-induced Parkinson’s Disease;
- systematic sclerosis/scleroderma; and
- cardiac defects.
The science about the link between chemical exposure and sickness was not clear until the late 2000s. When veterans and their families had the evidence they needed, they discovered that their claims were time-barred under North Carolina’s ten-year statute of limitations. Time rolled on.
In 2022, the Camp LeJeune Justice Act extended the time limit to file claims. But some of these claims may have matured nearly 70 years ago. Imagine, if you will, the challenge of finding 70-year-old medical records for someone who died in the late 1950s – or getting them digitized, so that they can be submitted.
The bottom line is that the imagined universe of people who might file claims under the Camp LeJeune Act of 2022 is smaller than it looks. Many folks have moved on, in one way or another.
Now, for the good news
Yes, there is some, especially for the younger cohort. The Camp LeJeune Justice Act opened a two-year window, beginning on August 10, 2022, for Camp Lejeune claims to be filed administratively with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit in Norfolk, Virginia, which can agree or decline to accept liability and pay compensation.
The law requires people to go through the administrative process before filing a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The administrative process is complicated, and it requires a great deal of documentation. As of mid-February about 20,000 administrative claims had been filed. None have been decided.
Fortunately, however, individuals who have made an administrative claim can file a lawsuit regardless of whether they have heard back from the Navy, as long as at least six months have elapsed since the date the claim was filed. There is every reason to believe that many more lawsuits are in the pipeline.
But the window also closes. All Camp LeJeune toxic tort lawsuits must be filed in federal court by August 10, 2024. That means that administrative claims must be filed by February 10, 2024 in order to preserve the option of a lawsuit. The heat is clearly on to file administrative claims so that the six-month waiting period can begin to wear away.
What potential claimants should do
The Navy has posted instructions about how to file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, outlining the steps to file a Camp Lejeune administrative claim. The required information includes:
- Status at time of exposure to Camp Lejeune water (member of the Armed Forces, family, contractor, infant in utero, etc.);
- Base housing area or off-base location where you lived at the time of exposure;
- Whether you worked at Hadnot Point Industrial Area in Camp Lejeune;
- Nature of injury, including specific type of cancer or other injury that is the basis of the claim.
Experienced legal counsel may be able to help with this necessary first step. If the Navy makes a settlement offer, that may be all that is needed. If the claim is denied or if the government fails to respond within six months, an attorney can certainly assist with the process of filing a lawsuit. The essential step is to get started as soon as possible.