What Happened at Camp Lejeune?

What Happened at Camp Lejeune? Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune was established in 1941 and still exists today. It is a roughly 250-mile-long military training base in Jacksonville, North Carolina. There are 14 miles of beaches, which make it ideal to train marines on both land and water. Millions of marines have trained at Camp Lejeune throughout the years and currently the population of the camp is around 140,000.

Between 1957 and 1987, Marines and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune drank contaminated water that contained 250 to 3,500 times the toxin levels allowed by water safety standards. It was discovered in 1982 that the water had been contaminated by an off-base dry cleaners which utilized improper waste disposal practices. Most of the contaminants had been dumped into storm drains for disposal and then filtered back into the main water supply by accident.  The contaminant at issue was Trichlorethylene, which is used as a refrigerant, metal cleaner, fumigant, and insecticide. This chemical is incredibly dangerous for human consumption. In 1982, the government discovered the severe water contamination that had taken place. By that time, over one million people had been exposed to it.

Ingesting Trichlorethylene in water has the potential to cause birth defects multiple forms of cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, miscarriages, Parkinson’s disease and complications with pregnant and nursing mothers. These are just a few of the complications the chemical can cause, and more are being found out each year.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act

The public at large and many lawmakers were outraged by what had happened at Camp Lejeune. The people we counted on to serve our country were essentially slowly poisoned. Normally, the U.S. government is immune towards these types of civil suits. However, to abrogate this immunity, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (the “CLJA”) was passed in 2021 and officially signed into law by the President in 2022. It allowed service members who had spent at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune during the exposure period of August 1953 to December 1987 to civilly sue the government for harm caused. This includes any harm which happened to a child that was still in the womb.

The Act provides for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina as the exclusive venue for actions brought pursuant to the Act. The date of enactment is August 10th, 2022, and the Act gives people harmed by the contaminated water two years from this date to bring their claims. The potential claimants must first file their claim with the appropriate federal agency to be approved or denied. The federal agency will have six months to either accept or deny their claim for monetary relief. If their claim is accepted, there will be a mediation process with the government where settlements are offered. These settlements are expected to be generous, and most claimants are expected to accept these offered settlement amounts. If their claim is denied and no settlement is offered, they may then file a civil suit in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

As of today, it is estimated that $45 million has been spent by law firms on Camp Lejeune television ads. Almost everyone has seen these ads, as it is one of the largest legal ad campaigns in the last 20 years. It has been speculated that these ads may be hurting the relief efforts of some of the victims, as too much exposure on television can annoy the public and cause their perception of the event to be more negative.  For these reasons, Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC has elected not to take parts in these commercials as other offices have, but we are available 24 hours to assist those injured by such exposures.

Will Those Injured at Camp Lejeune Receive Financial Compensation?

After the signing of the CLJA, there was a flood of litigation in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The litigation from the first month alone almost tripled the number of cases on the Court’s docket. In September of 2022, over 5,000 claims had already been filed only one month after the Act was passed. By October it was estimated that 50,000 Camp Lejeune litigants had already signed retainer agreements with private lawyers. Some even suggest the number to be as high as 150,000 people who have already retained lawyers. The Budget Office in Congress has estimated the total amount it will have to pay to all claimants to be somewhere in the vicinity of $7 billion, but legal experts believe it will be much more than that. Currently there is no money specifically set aside for this relief, but the government has shown a strong willingness to settle these claims.

The claims themselves are not part of what is normally called a “Class Action.” A Class Action occurs when many people harmed by the same thing join together and try to get a total amount of relief which is then distributed to them. The Camp Lejeune claims will each be handled as individual civil claims. This is a good thing for the injured litigants. Class Actions can be very complicated and take a long time. Treating the claims as individual civil lawsuits will result in higher monetary compensation and a much faster process for everyone involved. It is worthwhile to note that the CLJA also allows for Wrongful Death lawsuits to be filed by representatives of a deceased persons estate, even if that person died a very long time ago.

How Much Money Could You Get on Your Camp Lejeune Claim?

The damages that claimants ask for when trying to get the government to settle should be based on a few different factors. Among these factors are:

  • What kind of disease the person contracted and how closely it can be linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The recovery will be based on not just the medical bills but also the extent of damage done to the person and their ultimate injury, including pain and suffering. Some diseases are much more strongly linked to the water supply than others, and medical records will be used to help show causation. If the disease is something that could have occurred naturally without a direct link to the water, the chance of a large settlement will be greatly diminished. The severity of the disease will also raise the settlement, including how many years it took off the person’s expected lifespan.
  • How long the person was exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune will also be a big factor when determining how much money to ask for. In any civil case, causation is an important issue. You want to be able to show that the water directly caused your ultimate injury. The longer you were ingesting the water during the time period when it was contaminated, the more likely it is that your injury was caused by the water. Someone who was only exposed for 30 days will recover a lot less than someone who was exposed for 10 years to the defective water supply.
  • Lost wages and pain and suffering is another factor to consider. In a personal injury action, an injured person can recover for lost wages. If the person left the Armed Services and became a CFO of a bank for example, and then died prematurely or became unable to work, their lifetime earnings will be able to be recovered in the lawsuit. This will be calculated based on their expected age of retirement and expected salary for the working years they lost. Also, pain and suffering will be taken into account when trying to settle your case or asking a jury for a verdict. Pain and suffering is hard to calculate, but an experienced attorney will try to place an appropriate number on it. How much the person suffered from contracting their disease or injury can vary greatly from person to person. Some diseases are much more painful, catastrophic, and drawn out than others. In the case of a child who was born after exposure to the Camp Lejeune water while in utero, the damages could be extremely high as this could potentially cause a lifetime of pain and suffering.

One of the most important things to remember about the CLJA and the pending litigation is how important the settlement demand is. In normal litigation, you can make a demand of the other party for a specific dollar amount. If they deny your demand, you can go on to trial and ask for a much greater amount. In the CLJA litigation, your initial demand will “cap” your ultimate settlement or verdict. This means that if you demand $2 million from the government in settlement talks and you are denied, and a jury ultimately awards you $15 million, the award will be lowered down to $2 million. Therefore, you must be very careful what you end up demanding of the U.S. Government prior to litigation. This rule has resulted in many lawyers demanding upwards of $40 million for their clients claims, so as not to bar a large recovery if it happens later in the litigation.

 Legal Fees in Camp Lejeune Litigation

It is important to understand how retainer fee’s typically work in personal injury litigation of this sort. Normally, a 33% fee is taken from the ultimate settlement or verdict. That means that if you were awarded $1 million in your Camp Lejeune claim, you would receive $666,666. Most firms will charge for “costs” on top of that as well, including printing costs, hiring experts, and travel time to go to depositions and court. It is important to know that experts can cost upwards of $10,000 to appear in court for a single day and a similar fee to spend a few hours reviewing documents.

Some firms will even charge 40% or more of the ultimate recovery depending on how “risky” or “weak” they view your individual case. You always want to be informed as a client about the exact recovery you will receive and keep up to date with the estimated legal costs as your case proceeds through litigation.

At Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC, our attorney fees are lower that almost all other firms and you will not be expected to pay any attorney’s fees “up front.” You will only pay the law firm at the end of the litigation out of your settlement or verdict and only if we are successful. It is always important in the meantime not to take out any “loans” on a possible future settlement or verdict you believe is likely, as companies that specialize in these types of loans can and will charge predatory interest rates which can swallow up your eventual award quickly.

Speak to Our Experienced Injury Attorneys Now

For more than thirty years, the legal team at Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC has been helping injured people receive the emotional closure and the monetary relief that they deserve. Money cannot change the fact that lives have often been destroyed by these injuries, but it can force those responsible to admit that they were at fault and to take responsibility. It can also help an injured person and their family get back on track to a better life.

The attorneys on our legal team are committed to helping those that have been injured. No money will be charged up-front, and fees will never be charged unless our case is successful. Call us 24/7 for a free consultation at (312) 243-9922.