Although the tragedy of the Camp Lejeune toxic water contamination goes back decades, the current litigation is only in its earliest stages. Some claimants are starting to file administrative claims with JAG’s Tort Claims Units (which must be filed by August 2024 at the latest.) Others are in the 6 month waiting period after filing an administrative claim, and before filing a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Those who have already filed a civil lawsuit in federal court are stalled in legal processes while the court tries to manage the huge caseload of over 1,000 Camp Lejeune cases to date. As far as we are aware, no settlements have been reached yet in the Camp Lejeune litigation.
Before the Camp Lejeune Justice Act 2022
Camp Lejeune is a U.S. Marine Corps base still in use in North Carolina. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the water supply at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with toxic chemicals from leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, waste disposal sites, and off-base dry cleaners. The water contamination was first discovered in 1982, and the contaminated water plants were shut down in 1985, but by that time, the toxic chemicals in the water supply had already caused horrible cancers, Parkinson’s Disease, and other illnesses in service members and civilians who lived on and worked at the base. You can find out more about what happened at Camp Lejeune here.
In 2008, a health survey of people exposed to Camp Lejeune water contamination was commissioned under the National Defense Authorization Act, and the harm caused by Camp Lejeune was officially acknowledged. The first lawsuit related to the Camp Lejeune contaminated water was filed in 2009 by the spouse of a former marine, who had lived at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s and been exposed to the contaminated water. She was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (This case is not part of the current Camp Lejeune lawsuits.)
The Janey Ensminger Act (also known as the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act) was introduced in 2012, giving servicemembers and their families who were exposed to water contamination at Camp Lejeune free healthcare. Janey Ensminger was a child who was born at Camp Lejeune in the 1970s and died of leukemia at age 9.
In 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs set up a fund of $2.2 billion to pay compensation for exposure to Camp Lejeune water contamination to servicemembers who developed leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, or Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, many service members were denied compensation from the fund.
Finally, in 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (C.L.J.A.) was introduced. It gives servicemembers, their families, and civilians who were exposed to the toxic water supply at Camp Lejeune the power to finally get real compensation for the pain and losses they have suffered. The C.L.J.A. introduced an administrative process for claims but, as you will see, none of the claimants to date have received any compensation through this administrative process, and the claimants have now been forced to file civil lawsuits in federal court to get the compensation that they deserve.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act 2022 became law on August 10, 2022, as part of the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022. This allowed veterans, family members, and other individuals who lived or worked on Camp Lejeune for more than 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, to file a claim for compensation related to the toxic water contamination at Camp Lejeune.
The first Camp Lejeune lawsuits were also filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in August 2022, by claimants who had already filed an administrative claim against the U.S. government and been denied. These are known as legacy cases.
September to November 2022
In the fall of 2022, more legacy cases were filed but the Government asked the Court to dismiss them because the claimants did not file new administrative claims after the C.L.J.A. was passed.
By December 2022, 14,000 administrative claims for Camp Lejeune water contamination had been filed with the JAG’s Tort Claims Unit.
Judges in the Eastern District of North Carolina also began dismissing the legacy cases. They decided that the C.L.J.A. created new legal claims which required the claimants to go through the process of filing a new administrative claim under the C.L.J.A. before being eligible to file a civil lawsuit.
More legacy cases are dismissed because the plaintiffs had not filed new administrative claims for their injuries from the Camp Lejeune water contamination after the C.L.J.A. became law.
This is a landmark month because it marks the end of the 6 month period that the first C.L.J.A. claimants are required to wait before filing a civil lawsuit. The C.L.J.A. requires claimants to file an administrative claim with the Tort Claims Unit and, if they have not received a response or denial within 6 months, they may file a civil lawsuit.
The first Camp Lejeune lawsuits (that are not legacy cases facing dismissal) were filed.
At this point, more than 20,000 administrative claims had been filed with the JAG’s Tort Claims Unit, and none had received any response.
March to April 2023
By the end of April 2023, approximately 900 lawsuits had been filed in Federal Court in North Carolina, and approximately 45,000 administrative claims had been filed with the Tort Claims Unit.
There are only four judges handling the federal claims in the North Carolina Courts. It is an overwhelming task. A status conference was held to discuss consolidation of the cases, and the Court was given funding for additional administrative staff and clerks. The judges issued a joint order creating a Master Docket for all Camp Lejeune cases and ordering Plaintiffs’ attorneys to propose a leadership team who will help with a plan for managing cases, the discovery process, and settlement discussions by May 26, 2023.
Attorney for the Navy, Jennifer Tennile Karnes, sent a lengthy email to plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Camp Lejeune litigation informing them that the Tort Claims Unit is overburdened and that the anticipated online claims portal for Camp Lejeune claims has been further delayed. She estimated that 60,000 administrative claims had been filed with the Tort Claims Unit.
The May 26 deadline for applications or proposals for the Plaintiffs' Leadership Counsel or Plaintiffs' Steering Committee passes.
June to July 2023
The number of cases (over 1,000) and administrative claims (approximately 70,000) filed continues to grow.
The court interviewed Plaintiffs’ lawyers for leadership positions and selected 7 lawyers to lead the Camp Lejeune litigation. These lawyers will be the point of communication for the court, but each individual plaintiff will still retain their own individual lawyer for their own case.
A Justice Department spokesperson issued a statement to the media, stating that over 80,000 administrative claims have been filed, and the Navy has initiated processing of more than 17,000 claims. (By the time of writing, we think that the number of claims is now more than 90,000.) They also said that a new unit with a projected staff of over 100 claims professionals has been established within JAG to focus solely on adjudicating C.L.J.A. claims.
All parties have been granted an extension to any case deadlines until September 1, 2023, to allow them time to present on a Global Case Management Order to the Court.
The lawyers selected to lead the Plaintiffs’ attorneys have announced that they will be starting an online blog to keep claimants up to date on all events in the Camp Lejeune litigation.