Frustrated attorneys representing Camp Lejeune veterans blame the Navy and Marine Corps for a “growing logjam” and “backlog” in North Carolina’s federal courts. At least one attorney blames the Navy for the stall. "[The Navy and Marine Corps] haven't set up a claims resolution process yet, and that's very disappointing because Congress' intent was that they should do so immediately," said Mikal Watts, a Texas lawyer. "The Department of the Navy choosing not to pay any of them is helping nobody. It's just creating a litigation backlog."
More than six months has passed since the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA)went into effect, but so far, no action has been taken on approximately 20,000 Camp Lejeune contaminated water claims filed with the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG). Under the CLJA, a lawsuit must be filed in filed in federal court in North Carolina and only if the Navy JAG has failed to act on a claim after six months. The Navy JAG reviews each claimant to determine that the claimant was stationed at Camp Lejeune during the period of contamination and has evidence of harm caused by exposure to it.
They had better get started. According to federal officials, more than a million people may have been exposed to contaminated water from 1953 to 1987 --when the base's water was polluted with surface wastes migrating into the groundwater used for wells. Lawsuits may be filed by anyone who lived, worked or was otherwise exposed (including in utero) to toxic substances at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days before 1987 and was diagnosed with any of 15 different conditions, including miscarriage, female infertility, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson's disease and cancer of the bladder, breast, esophagus, kidney or liver.
Is the Navy and Marine Corps still in denial? After all, they have denied responsibility for contaminated water causing health issues since 1982. The CLJA stipulates that Camp Lejeune victims have two years to file claims for damages in federal court and the Navy’s six-month deadline on claims filed in August expired in February. According to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper and website, the Navy hasn’t set up a claims resolution process yet.
Navy JAG Response
The Navy JAG office emailed Roll Call that it "adjudicates claims in accordance with applicable law." "If the Navy determines the evidence substantiates the claim, the Navy, in coordination with the Department of Justice, may offer a settlement," the statement said. "There is no six-month deadline to resolve claims. If the claim is not yet resolved within six months after being filed, the claimant has the right to either file suit or continue awaiting the Navy’s final adjudication of the claim."
And the Navy JAG provided a statement to Fox News, stating their commitment to resolving all 20,000 claims they have received to date. "We are onboarding the received claims, acknowledging receipt, and conducting initial reviews…We are simultaneously starting the process of making initial contact with those who have filed, or their representatives, to give them an opportunity to provide support for their claims…At this time, however, no CLJA claims have been fully adjudicated."
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxic water from the 1950s. Before the CLJA came into effect, U.S. Marines and their family members who developed health complications because of the contamination were unable to sue the U.S. government under so-called “qualified immunity defenses.” Like so many mesothelioma cases caused by asbestos, Camp Lejeune victims are concerned that they won’t live long enough for their claims to reach trial.
"A lot of these people are elderly," Mike Partain, born at Camp Lejeune in 1968 and diagnosed with breast cancer (a rare disease in men) in 2007, told Roll Call. "Is this going to legally just take so long that most of us are dead before anything happens?"
A wrongful death case was filed by Jerry Ensminger, a former marine whose daughter Janey was conceived at Camp Lejeune in 1975 and died of leukemia at the age of 9. Ensminger opines that at least 40 percent of Camp Lejeune claims have developed into wrongful death cases like his. "Most of the people who passed away have surviving family members — their children, their spouses," Ensminger told Roll Call.
Former Marine Charles Hartfield was told two years ago that because of his terminal bladder cancer, he will live only three to five years longer. Hartfield, stationed at Camp Lejeune during the late 1970s, is requesting that a federal judge preserve his testimony.
Patricia Regent and her Marine husband spent 10 months at Camp Lejeune in 1970, long enough to develop kidney and bladder cancer, and her husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer. They left when she became pregnant. Neither of them has family history of cancer. She told Fox News that her 51-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with metastatic carcinoma.
Largest Mass Tort in History
Given that over 1 million people could have been exposed to toxic water, Camp Lejeune may be surpass 3M earplugs multidistrict litigation, which has so far been established as the largest mass tort in U.S. history. And asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort litigation in U.S. history, with asbestos companies having set aside more than $30 billion.
The minimum settlement expected for victims of Camp Lejeune's water has been low-balled at $10 million, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that Camp Lejeune claims could cost the government more than $163 billion over 10 years.