Are you or someone close to you one of the Camp Lejeune toxic water survivors?
It’s estimated that over 1 million people were affected by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Camp Lejeune is one of the worst cases of military water contamination. It still affects thousands of lives to this day.
For decades survivors have tried to seek recourse and compensation. Only to be met with frustration and a complete lack of legal support. Fortunately, this is about to change and survivors should soon be able to file a claim for compensaiton under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022.
At long last, Congress has recognized the need for Camp Lejeune toxic water survivors to be able to seek compensation from the government. In response, Congress is in the process of finalizing a bill that will allow victims to file claims for compensaiton for serious injuries.
Although the bill hasn’t been completely finalized yet, it’s important that you act fast. If you want to file for a settlement, now is the time to start preparing.
The last thing you want is to miss this chance to receive justice for the harm inflicted on yourself or your family.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the Camp Lejeune drinking water settlement.
What Happened At Camp Lejeune
Were you personally impacted by the marine corps base Camp Lejeune water contamination? If yes, you are probably quite aware of the events that caused devastation for so many families.
But, if you’re trying to help someone who was affected get justice, here’s a rundown of what transpired at Camp Lejeune.
Camp Lejuene first opened in 1941 in response to World War II. After the war, Camp Lejuene continued to be one of the US military’s largest amphibious training bases. It housed almost 140,000 people at a time.
Camp Lejeune got its water from a series of underground wells. These wells supplied the entire base, which consisted of housing areas, shopping facilities, daycares, schools, and more.
Before 1974, the US didn’t have comprehensive drinking water standards, besides water clarity and general sanitation. In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed.
The Act set maximum threshold levels for 28 harmful substances. After a few years, new research came out revealing the dangers of volatile organie compounds (“VOCs”).
In response, an interim standard to the Act came into legislation. It required that all water sources undergo testing for a specific VOC, trihalomethane (“TTHM”).
Interestingly, the Department of Defense asked for an exemption, under the pretext of not “having enough resources.” Fortunately, this was denied.
Towards the end of 1980, an official sample from the Camp Lejeune water treatment plant went to a private lab for testing. Rather than finding TTHM, the readings were obscured by strong concentrations of unknown VOCs.
After more testing it turned out that some of these VOCs were:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE): a solvent in metal degreasers
- Tetrachloroethylene (PCE): a component of dry cleaning solvents
The Department of Defense Was Slow to Act
Eventually, the sources of these VOCs were narrowed down to two water treatment plants in Lejeune Camp. The one was located next to a waste dump, and the other one was in close proximity to an off-base dry cleaner.
Unfortunately, the military was very slow to react to this extremely dangerous situation. For the next 4 years, officials continued to take samples from these two treatment plants. Reports state that “pointed warnings” were issued from the labs to Camp Lejeune officials, which they disregarded.
Camp officials even went so far as to switch from monthly sampling to quarterly sampling. While being warned about the dangerously high levels of VOCs detected.
Eventually, in 1984 the military removed the contaminated wells from rotation for roughly a year. However, when water levels were low, these contaminated wells rejoined the system, polluting the water supply once more.
In 1987, the contaminated wells closed for good. But it was already far too late for many residents of the camp.
The Effects of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
During the years contaminated wells were circulating water into Camp Lejuene, many active-duty soldiers, staff, and family members started experiencing strange health symptoms.
Besides TCE, PCE, and benzene, samples from the Camp Lejeune water treatment plant also revealed the presence of 70 other harmful VOCs. Drinking water standards and regulations around VOCs were still in their infancy at the time. But there are also indications that camp officials weren’t eager to address the issues at the Camp Lejeune water treatment plant.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in some areas of the camp, contaminated drinking water contained 400 times what safety standards allowed.
During the years of the Camp Lejeune water contamination, residents experienced a variety of strange physical symptoms.
These included things like mysterious rashes and unexplained fatigue. Children born in the camp also started developing an inexplicable number of birth defects, and infant mortality rates shot up. Pregnant mothers also experienced increased complications.
Reports state that there is still a section in the Camp Lejeune cemetery that bears witness to this tragedy. Tucked away, rows upon rows of infant gravestones stand. Often with birth and death dates merely one day apart.
Various Forms of Cancer
These tragic deaths and birth defects weren’t the only legacy left by the water contamination. One study on the effects of the Camp Lejeune water contamination reports a link to higher mortality rates through the following cancers:
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Cervix cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Childhood cancers
In other words, anyone who resided at Camp Lejeune during the years of the water contamination is at a far higher risk of developing one of these types of cancers.
Birth Defects and Chronic Diseases
Cancer is not the only health impact the contaminated drinking water had. It is believed that the VOCs in the Camp Lejeune water also potentially caused:
- Neural tube defects
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Developmental delays or learning disabilities in children
- Cleft palates
- Renal toxicity
- Aplastic anemia
- Fetal brain damage
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
- Respiratory diseases (such as asthma and emphysema)
- High blood pressure
- Male infertility
- Congenital disabilities
Besides the physical health problems, impairments, disabilities, and deaths, the water contamination also caused immense emotional pain and suffering.
The trauma of the mysterious illnesses and health issues affected the psychological health of everyone afflicted, especially the children. In some cases, this brought on PTSD and suicidal thoughts.
Behind these long lists of health conditions are hundreds of US families who had to suffer the life-altering effects of things like birth defects, losing children at birth, and the early death of one or more parents. Some parents of children born in the camp, who were lucky enough to have them live through their first years of life, had to later stand by helpless as their children succumbed to incurable diseases such as childhood leukemia.
Camp Residents Weren’t Informed of Their Exposure
To add insult to injury and tragedy, most of the people who resided at Camp Lejuene had little-to-no knowledge of the severity of the contamination, or what this meant for them.
The first news the base occupants had of the water contamination came in a base newsletter in 1984. The title was “Environmental Study Kicks Off“.
This was a forerunner to the well closures. It made extremely light of the situation, stating that officials “did not expect to expose anyone to any contaminants.”
By the next year, notifications came to basecamp residents that the contaminated wells had been closed. However, these notifications only reached stationed marines and their families and local media reports. Marines, soldiers, families, and staff who had moved away from the camp did not receive any notification of the water contamination.
After this, things moved exceedingly slowly. While sufferers from the water contamination battled debilitating, tragic, and fatal health issues in silence, the bureaucratic engine ground at a snail’s pace. Between red tape surrounding military records, still evolving regulations around toxic substances, and funding issues, the Camp Lejeune contamination was partially swept under the rug.
Fortunately, by 1992, both TCE and PCE came under regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act amendment.
Then, in 1997 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) published the Camp Lejeune PHA. The PHP then became the basis for numerous federal reports, congressional hearings, and an EPA-led criminal investigation.
How Victims Found Out
After this, the ATSDR started reaching out to individual families to learn more about possible birth defects. This outreach was the first indication that many sufferers had of any link between their health issues and the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.
For some survivors, it was the penny drop they needed. They finally had an answer to their unexplained health struggles and chronic illnesses. Although the water at Camp Lejeune had already wreaked its damage, at least the victims had some insight into why they had suffered so many inexplicable health-related tragedies.
This also led a number of veterans to form awareness groups. In the beginning, the veterans did not meet with much success, but over time their efforts have paid off.
Previous Compensation Attempts
Once more info was out in the open, a number of Camp Lejeune toxic water survivors came forward to file lawsuits. A total of 850 lawsuits were filed. These suits then became consolidated into an MDL.
Unfortunately, all 850 lawsuits were dismissed. This was thanks to a North Carolina law, known as a statute of repose. North Carolina’s statute of repose stipulated that legal action couldn’t be brought forth because the water contamination happened more than 10 years before the suit.
Public outrage ensued over this sad outcome. This eventually led to the proposal of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA) a few years later.
Many survivors have also made attempts to gain assistance from the VA. Unfortunately, the VA hasn’t had the best track record of accepting Camp Lejuene claims. So much so, that there’s a saying in vet circles that the VA will “deny until we die.”
According to reports from the VA, it has approved just 17.3% of claims brought to them as a result of the Camp Lejeune water contamination.
Only over the last ten years has the VA started recognizing presumptive service connections for health issues and exposure to the Camp Lejeune water.
Thanks to this, it has been able to offer some assistance to certain veterans. However, assistance is limited to a monthly disability compensation. This can help offset healthcare costs but does not include provision for pain and suffering.
Some veterans who were based at Camp Lejeune may currently receive disability compensation. But this in no way takes the place of a settlement amount.
Health care benefits can help. But they don’t make up for the pain and emotional trauma stationed families had to bear.
The VA’s assistance is also entirely limited to veterans and their families. The VA does not provide disability benefits to anybody else who suffered exposure, such as civilian contractors.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act and What It Means for Survivors
After the proposal, the House of Representatives passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) by a vote of 256 to 174. The bill is currently with the Senate waiting for majority approval.
As we speak, Senate is finalizing approval of the bill. When the Senate approves the CLJA, president Biden will have to sign it into law.
After this, Camp Lejeune toxic water survivors can file their suits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Victims Can Bypass North Carolina’s Statute of Repose
Under the new act, victims are able to circumvent North Carolina’s statute of repose. This will enable survivors to bring tort suits to federal court and seek compensation for their water contamination injuries.
How to File Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Lawsuit
Have you or a loved one suffered physical impairment or disease as a result of the Camp Lejuene water contamination? If yes, now is the time to take action and seek just compensation.
Here are the steps involved in how to file a Camp Lejune contaminated water lawsuit, and some tips for the process.
Who Is Eligible
One of the first things to do if you want to file a Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit (or help someone file) is to determine initial eligibility.
The CLJA defines the groups of people who are now entitled to file for a Camp Lejeune drinking water settlement under the bill. These groups include:
- Any person who lived on Camp Lejeune for 1 month or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987;
- Any person who worked at Camp Lejeune for 1 month or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987; and
- Any other person who was exposed to the contaminated drinking water for 1 month or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
Anybody who meets these criteria is eligible to file and may be covered by the provisions of the CLJA. Survivors who were babies in utero on camp and suffered health effects as a result of the water are also eligible to file for compensation. Civilian contractors who suffered exposure to the drinking water in the specified time period can also file.
There are some exceptions, however. For instance, active-duty members who were dishonorably discharged may not meet the requirements. By extension, their families may not be able to file a suit.
Camp Lejuene family members, veterans, staff, visitors, contractors, and any other person who wishes to file will need to provide evidence of their stay in the camp. Documentary evidence is preferable.
For veterans and their families, the easiest way to prove exposure will probably be through service records. Non-military camp staff and civilian contractors can use things like employment records to prove exposure.
Visitors to the camp may have the most trouble providing proof of time stayed, especially after all these years. However, there are still various types of proof you might be able to provide. Such as witness statements, or any Marine records of your time spent on camp.
Besides proving eligibility, you’ll also need to gather the necessary evidence to support your case. Simply being able to prove you were in the camp for at least 30 days during the specified time periods does not automatically qualify you for compensation.
If you have suffered physical or mental impairment due to the Camp Lejeune water contamination, your core evidence will need to consist of healthcare records.
As we said above, so far it seems like the Act’s aim is to simplify the evidence process for plaintiffs as much as possible. It does this by lowering the burden of proof.
In the majority of personal injury cases, plaintiffs need to bring in expert witnesses to substantiate their claims and provide evidence. Under the CLJA, this is may not necessary.
Instead, you may meet your burden of proof with a published study that shows a direct link between the health conditions you’re suffering from and the contaminants. This may be all of the proof you may have to provide to show that your injuries were caused by the water at Camp Lejeune.
If you are suffering from multiple health issues, it may be sufficient to submit one or more studies for each condition to prove a claim under the CLJA. According to the Act, studies must:
- Have been on humans or animals or be an epidemiological study;
- Have ruled out chance and bias with reasonable confidence;
- Conclude with sufficient evidence that exposure to the water described in subsection (a) of the Act is one possible cause of harm
Studies that comply with the above requirements may enough to satisfy the burden of proof outlined in the Act. However, experts may assist in the intrepretation of these studies.
Finally, you might also need to supply evidence of any loss of income you’ve experienced as a result of ill-health caused by exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Getting Legal Assistance You Can Rely On
Another important step to take if you want to file a Camp Lejeune drinking water settlement is to hire an attorney. Even though the new Act aims to simplify certain areas for plaintiffs (such as the burden of proof) it’s still wise to seek legal representation.
Having legal representation always strengthens your case, even if it’s a relatively straightforward one. Having legal help ensures that you don’t miss any critical steps in the filling process.
A good attorney will also be able to evaluate your evidence ahead of time and make sure it is strong enough to meet the burden of proof.
Having a lawyer in your corner can also save you a lot of time and stress. Instead of worrying about your case and wondering whether you might have bungled a step, you can leave all of the heavy lifting to your attorney.
However, it’s very important that you pick your attorney with care. Ideally, you should engage an attorney who has an in-depth knowledge of the Camp Lejeune drinking water settlement bill, and the legal history behind it. The lawyer you pick should also have experience representing plaintiffs in mass tort lawsuits and licensed to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The Legal Process
Because the act allows plaintiffs to circumvent Noth Carolina’s statute of repose, it involves a couple of unusual steps. This is another reason we’d strongly advise you seek legal counsel before filing.
Before filing a civil lawsuit, the Act requires plaintiffs to first comply with 28 U.S.C. § 2675. Plaintiffs need to begin by filing an injury “claim” with the “appropriate federal agency.” For a Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit, the appropriate federal agency is the Department of Defense.
After this formality, the Department of Defense needs to approve or deny your claim within 6 months.
In a lot of cases, this filing step is merely a formality. But, for Camp Lejeune suits, there is a chance that the Department of Defence might offer you a settlement amount if they deem your case legitimate.
Should you choose to accept the settlement, your claim will then be resolved. This is the fastest potential outcome, but there is no guarantee the Department of Defense will offer a settlement, even if your case is entirely legitimate.
If the Department of Defense denies the claim (or you reject the settlement offered) you can move forward with filing your lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in Eastern North Carolina.
Lowered Attorney Fees
Do you want to leverage legal assistance to help ensure the success of your lawsuit, but are worried about the cost? If so, we have some good news.
Firstly, a Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney won’t be entitled to a fee until you have received your settlement. Instead of billing you up front, most lawyers representing Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuits are likely to work on a contingency agreement.
In the event that you win a settlement, the attorney is then entitled to a percentage share. For most filed cases, standard contingency rates hover around 40%. However, the Federal Tort Claims Act caps the contingency fee law firms can charge at 25%. In other words, because your claim is against the government, you may pay a lot less in legal fees. At this time, it is not clear what amount the court will approve for attorneys’ fees.
Possible Settlement Amounts
If you or someone you know has suffered from exposure to the Camp Lejeune water, you are probably anxious to know what settlement amounts plaintiffs can expect.
Is it worth the time and effort to pursue a Camp Lejeune drinking water settlement?
As the bill is still in the process of being signed into law, it’s still too early to accurately predict settlement amounts. Settlement amounts will depend on the extent of:
- Injuries Sustained;
- Pain and Suffering endured; and
- Lost income you may have sustained.
Settlement amounts also largely depend on the ability of your Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney to link injuries or death to the camp’s contaminated water.
Fast Action Is Key
Last but not least, it’s also important to be aware that quick action is key to successfully securing a settlement under the new Act.
The Act stipulates a 2-year deadline for Camp Lejeune victims who want to file claims.
If you have already developed health issues caused by the water contamination, the deadline to file starts from the date the President signs the CLJA into law.
Do You Need Help Filing a Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Settlement?
If you or someone you care about is planning to file a Camp Lejeune drinking water settlement, it’s imperative that you get the right legal help. You need an experienced attorney who understands the injustice of the situation and the stipulations of the new Act.
Looking for a experienced Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney? We are a team of dedicated attorneys, versed in the history of the Camp Lejeune water contamination issue. We are fully up to speed on the new bill, have our finger on the pulse, and our team has extensive experience handling mass tort cases.
Contact us today to discuss your unique case.
Want to find out more before you begin the process? Or get clarification about filing for a family member? Download our checklist of what you need to do to file a claim for yourself or a family member.