Recently, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 which allows veterans, their family members, and others who were stationed, worked or resided on the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for at least thirty (30) days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987, and sustained injuries due to exposure to contaminated water to file suit for financial compensation. This is unusual, as it will allow individuals who were serving in a military status at the time of the potential exposure to file a lawsuit, and it expands the statute of limitations for filing such claims.
In the early 1980s, the US government discovered dangerous contaminants in the groundwater at Camp Lejeune. Testing found that drinking water sources at Camp Lejeune were contaminated with staggering levels of benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene, or perchloroethylene (PCE), and vinyl chloride (VC), all of which are known to be carcinogenic and/or harmful to humans.
In the passing decades, scientific and medical evidence revealed a nexus between exposure to these contaminants and the development of certain medical conditions, including cancers, infertility, birth defects and Parkinson’s Disease. In response to the growing concerns and the significant number of Veterans who suffered severe health consequences, in 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established a presumptive service connection for eight (8) medical conditions suffered by qualifying service members exposed during the relevant period. While this allowed qualifying Veterans the ability to receive health care and VA compensation, it fell short of allowing those veterans, family members, and other affected parties to seek full and fair compensation for their injuries and consequences of the exposure. In part, this was because of the immunity from suits filed by service members that the Federal Government enjoys as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Feres v. the United States, 340 U.S. 135. Under the Feres Doctrine, an individual cannot file a claim or suit based on injuries that are incident to his or her service. Moreover, non-military exposure victims were legally prohibited from filing claims due to a North Carolina law preventing tort suits where the defendant’s last act or omission is more than ten (10) years old. Since many of the victims of toxic exposure were unaware of the long-term effects or the cause of their medical issues for decades, they could not file in time to satisfy the North Carolina law. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act removes these barriers.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act does not entitle anyone to automatic recovery. This legislation covers individuals who have not already been compensated, and they must prove their cases to receive any recovery. The Act requires that the injured person, or the representative of a deceased injured person, first, file an administrative claim for damages with the appropriate federal agency within two (2) years after the date of enactment.
To file a claim, the injured party or representative will submit it to the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, Virginia. The proper format for filing a claim is by completing a Standard Form 95 (SF-95), which will include basic information about the injured person, the injuries, and the requested damages. Punitive damages are not allowed, and for those individuals who have been compensated by the VA or under the Social Security Act (Medicare/Medicaid), there will be an offset to any award of damages under this claim or litigation. The TCU will then have 180 days from the date the claim is properly presented to take action on the claim. That means that the TCU may investigate, may try to resolve/settle the claim, or may deny the claim. If the Navy does not take action within the 180 days or denies the claim, the injured person can then file suit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the exclusive jurisdiction for these actions. The injured party must bring their suit within 180 days of the Navy’s denial.
Unlike the presumptive service connection granted by the VA, the claimants will need to establish a connection between their illness/injuries and the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune during the requisite period. This will likely require expert medical witnesses who can explain this connection. Additionally, there may be additional parties who are in part responsible for the contamination and, therefore, the claimant’s injuries. It may benefit an injured party to seek legal advice and representation to navigate this process and learn about their rights and options to ensure they get the justice and compensation they deserve.
For more information about how to file a claim or if you are eligible, please visit our Camp Lejune water contamination lawsuit webpage.
Heather Tenney, Esq. is a Partner in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s military and national security law and the federal employment law practice groups, where her experience as a litigation and advocacy attorney with the U.S. Army adds to the number of qualified attorneys within the firm’s practice. Heather possesses years of experience representing officers and enlisted service members in complex legal matters, including courts-martial, adverse command actions against troops such as administrative separations, Article 15 matters, and other forms of non-judicial punishments. She also served as a Claims Attorney with the US Army Claims Service and was responsible for adjudicating torts claims filed against the Army. She can be reached at (888)-529-4543 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.