As 2023 unfolds, there have been several notable developments under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) that claimants and potential claimants ought to be aware of. Although we are not to a point where we have the transparency we crave, there have been some significant developments, and we've gotten a number of clues regarding how these claims might be paid.
Overall, we've gotten confirmation that claims meeting certain criteria will likely be paid. Also, we've been given some insight into how these claims will be valued and how long it might take to get a settlement under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Overview of the Latest Updates Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in 2023
One of the most significant Camp Lejeune lawsuit updates in 2023 is the introduction of the "Elective Option," announced by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Navy on September 6, 2023. This voluntary process aims to expedite the resolution of some qualifying claims, offering a quicker path to financial restitution for some affected individuals. The Elective Option is an additional path to recovery supplements existing avenues for claims under the CLJA. To date, over 93,000 claims have been filed, indicating the scale and importance of getting this show on the road.
Another major update came early in the summer, when the Department of the Navy reached out to detail the administrative claims process and discuss the reasons for delays in evaluating claims. We will talk more about the administrative process later in this article.
What Claimants Can Expect in Terms of New Policies or Adjustments
The introduction of the Elective Option shows us that many claims will be evaluated in a streamlined fashion. In other words, payment may be determined less on an individualized evaluation and more on whether a claimant checks certain boxes. We don't yet know whether claims will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in the administrative process or what that evaluation will look like, but we do have some insight into the factors the Department of the Navy and the Department of Justice find to be most relevant to the value of a given claim.
The Elective Option appears to be the most simplified and streamlined avenue of recovery at this time. By narrowing down the focus of the review to key elements like the type of injury and the duration of exposure at Camp Lejeune, the Elective Option aims to quicken the pace of validations and, consequently, settlement offers. However, for those with more particularized harm and a desire for a more comprehensive and individualized evaluation, the administrative process or the litigation process may be a more attractive option, even though these options could delay payment to a much later date.
The Future Outlook for Pending and Future Claims
While the Elective Option presents an expedited route, it is critical to note that all other mechanisms for resolving claims remain intact. Those not interested in the Elective Option, as well as those not eligible for the Elective Option, can still go through the normal administrative claims process and/or pursue litigation.
For pending and future claims, this means that there are now multiple avenues for achieving a resolution. With the concerted efforts of various governmental departments, it appears that there will be a robust framework in place to ensure that every valid Camp Lejeune claim is evaluated and subsequently resolved or denied.
History of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit
For those interested in the historical context of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, we can provide some background information that explains the issues that ultimately led to so many people getting exposed to harmful chemicals at Camp Lejeune. It's essential for claimants to have a grasp of this background as it lays the groundwork for filing claims under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Water Contamination Issue at Camp Lejeune
The issue of water contamination at Camp Lejeune dates back several decades, specifically from mid-1953 through 1987. During this period, individuals working at Camp Lejeune, stationed there, living on the base, or otherwise exposed to the water were unknowingly exposed to dangerous chemicals that had profound impacts on health. The realization that thousands of service members and their families were at risk led to a series of investigations and eventually the passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act as a legal remedy.
Chemicals Identified in the Water and Their Potential Health Impacts
The water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with various harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), and benzene. These chemicals are associated with a host of severe health issues, including kidney cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and leukemia, among many others. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has already linked many health conditions and cancers to the chemicals found in the water at Camp Lejeune.
Relevant Time Periods During Which Water Contamination Occurred
The water contamination at Camp Lejeune was ongoing for nearly 35 years, from August 1953 to December 1987. This extended time frame exacerbated the problem of exposure-related illnesses because of the sheer number of individuals exposed to the dangerous chemicals at Camp Lejeune. In fact, the ATSDR estimates that as many as 1 million folks might have been exposed to the dangerous drinking water at Camp Lejeune, and the Camp Lejeune Justice Act specifically aims to compensate individuals for the illnesses they developed as a result of their exposure to the harmful chemicals in the water during this time.
Specific Zones Within the Base Where Water Contamination Levels Were Dangerous
Understanding the geographic spread of contamination within Camp Lejeune is essential for claimants, as it informs both the risk assessment and the strength of a legal claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. While contamination affected the entire base, some areas were more profoundly impacted.
Notably, there were three water-distribution plants that supplied water to a majority of the housing units on the Base that were contaminated, including Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard.
The Hadnot Point area was notorious for having some of the most concentrated levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and other volatile organic compounds.
The contamination primarily originated from leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites. Activities such as vehicle maintenance, which utilized degreasing solvents, also contributed to the contamination.
This area contained elevated levels of perchloroethylene (PCE), as well as smaller amounts of trichloroethylene (TCE) and benzene.
The primary source of contamination in the Tarawa Terrace zone was from a privately-owned dry cleaning facility (ABC One-Hour Cleaners) adjacent to the base. Leaching from the facility led to the migration of PCE into the groundwater used for drinking water.
Holcomb Boulevard also had its share of contamination because it was provided with drinking water from Hadnot Point from time to time. Specifically, during months when demand for water was at its highest (spring and summer), Holcomb Boulevard's water supply would be supplemented with water from Hadnot Point. Thus, Holcomb Boulevard contained many of the same contaminants found in the water at Hadnot Point.
The sources of these chemicals are believed to be a mix of leaking underground storage tanks and industrial discharges, similar to Hadnot Point. The area also had its water treatment plants, which failed to adequately remove these contaminants.
Eligibility to File a Claim Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act
Navigating the eligibility criteria for filing a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act can be complex, but it's a crucial step for those seeking compensation for injuries or wrongful death. To better understand who qualifies and under what conditions, this section outlines the primary eligibility requirements for filing a claim for damages under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Residency, Work, & Exposure Requirements
To be eligible for filing a claim, an individual must have either resided at, worked at, or otherwise have been exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. This extends to military personnel, civilian contractors, and the families of military personnel and civilian contractors who were exposed to the water.
Time Period Requirements
One of the main requirements is that a person must have been exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between the stipulated timeframe of August 1953 and December 1987. To be clear, the requirement is that the person must have been exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune for a total of 30 days. It is not required that a person be exposed to the water for 30 days in a row.
List of Qualifying Diseases or Conditions
Another main requirement for filing a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is that a person must have suffered from a condition or died as a result of a condition that can be linked to the contaminants found in the water at Camp Lejeune. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has established categories of diseases linked to the exposure to the contaminants found at Camp Lejeune.
In the September 6, 2023 announcement of the Elective Option, the Department of Justice divided the conditions into two tiers, based upon the strength of the evidence linking the condition to the contaminants found in the water at Camp Lejeune.
Tier 1 Diagnoses
Tier 1 conditions include those conditions the ATSDR has substantiated evidence of causation and include the following:
- Kidney cancer;
- Liver cancer;
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
- Leukemia; and
- Bladder cancer.
Tier 2 Diagnoses
Tier 2 conditions include those conditions the ATSDR has linked possible evidence of causation, including the following:
- Multiple myeloma;
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Kidney disease (end stage renal disease); and
- Systemic sclerosis/systemic scleroderma.
Being diagnosed with a disease in either Tier 1 or Tier 2 significantly strengthens your claim. Nonetheless, if you were exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more and have a condition not listed above, you may still have a viable claim for damages.
Other Conditions that may Qualify for Compensation under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act
It's worth noting that while Tier 1 and Tier 2 conditions are explicitly identified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), other conditions may still qualify for compensation. However, a claim for such a condition will likely require more evidence to link the condition to exposure to the contaminated water, such as the opinion from an expert witness.
Some of these other conditions could include:
- Breast cancer;
- Esophageal cancer;
- Lung cancer;
- Cervical cancer;
- Renal cancer;
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease);
- Immune disorders;
- Myelodysplastic syndromes;
- Aplastic anemia (and other bone marrow conditions);
- Neurobehavioral effects;
- Brain damage;
- Cardiac defects;
- Fatty liver disease;
- Hepatic steatosis;
- Renal toxicity;
- Birth defects;
- Infertility; or
Remember, the above list is not exhaustive, and eligibility for claims related to these conditions would likely require more robust evidence and medical documentation. You should consider seeking legal advice regarding your claim, especially when considering filing a claim for conditions not explicitly mentioned by the ATSDR. We offer free legal consultations, so a call to us is risk-free.
The Administrative Process for Filing a Claim Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act
Navigating the administrative claims process can be daunting, but understanding the steps involved in the claims process is crucial for a timely and favorable resolution.
Overview of the Claims Process and Necessary Steps
The first step in the process is to submit an administrative claim to the Department of the Navy (DON). This claim must include basic identifying information and basic information to support your case. However, the claim does not need to include supporting evidence at this time, and they are simply asking folks to fill out the form and send it in.
After submitting a claim form, the DON will then review the claim. Thereafter, and this has taken months for our clients, the DON may issue a "perfected claim letter."
A "perfected claim letter" from the DON signifies that your claim has met the initial requirements and is ready for full evaluation. Without this letter, your claim may be stuck in administrative limbo, causing delays in settlement, or even risking dismissal.
Substantiation Requests: What They Are and How to Respond
You may receive a substantiation request from the DON, asking for further evidence or clarification related to your claim. Responding promptly and comprehensively to these requests is critical because failure to do so could result in your claim being denied or delayed.
The substantiation request will specify what additional information is needed, such as military records, medical records, employment history, or other proof of exposure.
Settlement Negotiations and the Option for Filing a Lawsuit
After the DON substantiates your claim, the DON may extend a settlement offer or otherwise initiate negotiations. A person's offer will likely vary depending on the specifics of your case, such as the type of injury or illness suffered and duration of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. It's essential to evaluate these offers carefully and consult with legal counsel if necessary.
If a satisfactory resolution is not reached through settlement negotiations, claimants still have the right to push the case forward and pursue litigation. The venue for these Camp Lejeune lawsuits is the Eastern District of North Carolina. We have an attorney licensed in the Eastern District of North Carolina, and we can handle these Camp Lejeune cases from start to finish.
The Elective Option
In an effort to streamline the claims process and settle some of these Camp Lejeune cases as quickly as possible, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Navy announced the new "Elective Option" on September 6, 2023. Details regarding the Elective Option are provided below.
Eligibility Criteria Specific to the Elective Option
To qualify for this Elective Option, a claimant must have already submitted an administrative claim to the Department of the Navy (DON). The Elective Option aims to concentrate on key aspects of a CLJA claim, like the type of injury and duration of exposure, and to quickly validate qualifying claims and extend settlement offers.
Specific Camp Lejeune Settlement Amounts Under the Elective Option
The Elective Option categorizes health conditions into two tiers, and the DON and DOJ will offer affected people varied compensation amounts based on the type of illness and the duration of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Tier 1 Diagnoses and Corresponding Dollar Amounts
Tier 1 includes conditions for which there is substantiated evidence of causation according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). These conditions include:
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Bladder cancer
Financial awards for Tier 1 Diagnoses are as follows:
- Exposure over five years: $450,000
- Exposure between one and five years: $300,000
- Exposure between 30 and 364 days: $150,000
Tier 2 Diagnoses and Corresponding Dollar Amounts
Tier 2 covers conditions that have possible links to the chemicals, according to ATSDR. These conditions are:
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Kidney disease (end-stage renal disease)
- Systemic sclerosis/systemic scleroderma
Financial awards for Tier 2 Diagnoses are:
- Exposure over five years: $400,000
- Exposure between one and five years: $250,000
- Exposure between 30 and 364 days: $100,000
Additional Compensation in Camp Lejeune Claims Involving Death
Note that claims involving death due to exposure-related conditions will receive an additional $100,000 in compensation.
The Elective Option is poised to be a significant addition to the available methods for resolving CLJA claims. It offers a more rapid and straightforward way for victims to obtain compensation, thus making it a crucial development in the ongoing saga of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Update
Q1: What are the key updates in the Camp Lejeune lawsuit as of 2023?
Answer: The most significant update is the introduction of the Elective Option, a voluntary process designed to expedite the resolution of claims under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) of 2022. This new option supplements the existing administrative and litigation avenues for claim resolution.
Q2: What is the Elective Option, and how does it work?
Answer: The Elective Option is a voluntary process announced on September 6, 2023, by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Navy. It provides a streamlined framework for the rapid and transparent resolution of certain CLJA claims. Claimants opting for this route will have to focus on key aspects of their claims, such as the type of injury and duration of exposure at Camp Lejeune, for faster validation and settlement offers.
Q3: Who is eligible to file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
Answer: Eligible claimants include those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least a total of 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. Additionally, they must have been diagnosed with diseases or conditions that have been linked or can be linked to exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Q4: How does the Elective Option impact the financial compensation for claimants?
Answer: The Elective Option features tiered settlement offers based on the severity of the disease and the duration of exposure at Camp Lejeune. Tier 1 diagnoses such as kidney cancer, liver cancer, and leukemia offer settlements ranging from $150,000 to $450,000. Tier 2 diagnoses like multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s disease offer settlements ranging from $100,000 to $400,000. In the event of death, an additional $100,000 will be added to the settlement offer.
Q5: What are the timelines for getting a settlement under the Elective Option?
Answer: The Elective Option aims for quickest possible resolution. Upon validation of a claim, a settlement offer can be expected within several weeks to several months. Once the offer is extended, claimants have 60 days to accept it. After acceptance, a release must be filed within 14 days, and the settlement check is generally issued within 60 days thereafter.
Q6: What fee are attorneys charging for filing a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?
Answer: The attorney fee will vary, depending on the firm you choose. We have heard from clients and potential clients that other firms are charging up to 40% or more. At our firm, we have decided to handle these claims for a contingency fee of 20% if a case is settled prior to litigation and 25% if the case goes to litigation. You don't pay anything to us unless we get you money.