Service members and their families have many questions about the new law that allows them to file a claim against the federal government for compensation arising from their time at Camp Lejeune. After years of being denied Justice, victims who were sickened after exposure to toxic Camp Lejeune water can now file a claim to be paid damages. Here are some questions that we have commonly been asked by prospective clients.
Why can I all of a sudden file a lawsuit now?
There was a long fight for Camp Lejeune victims to get Justice for the harm that the government did to them. There were years of legal battles that came to a dead end when both a North Carolina state law and a judicially created doctrine kept injured service members from filing a lawsuit. As part of the PACT Act, Congress has passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act that gives injured service members and other people who were exposed to the toxic water the right to file a lawsuit for the harm that they suffered.
Who does this new law apply to?
Recognizing the fact that it did not take long for people exposed to the toxic water to be exposed to dangerous amounts of chemicals, the legislation allows people who were at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more during the time period of 1953-1987 to file a lawsuit.
How long do I have to file a claim?
The new law created a new cause of action that gives you two years from the date that the bill was signed into law by President Biden to file a lawsuit. This is a limited time right that you have, and once the two-year time period expires, you will completely lose the right to sue. The two-year time limitation applies to filing your case. It may take much longer than two years to resolve your claim.
Do I need a lawyer for a Camp Lejeune claim?
There is nothing that says that you have to hire an attorney, but your legal case will be far better off if you do. First, it is not assured that you would get compensation for your Camp Lejeune injuries. You would still need to meet the burden of proof to show that your exposure to the water causes your injuries. In addition, you would need to negotiate compensation with the federal government. There are no assurances that the federal government will be any more reasonable than an insurance company. If your claim is denied, or if the government will not pay you enough money, you would need to file a lawsuit in federal court. The average person may not be able to handle their own case in federal court.
Do I need to file a claim with the government first?
Yes. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is patterned after the federal tort claims act. In nearly all cases, if you have a claim against the federal government, you must go to the federal government first. You cannot file a lawsuit until you have exhausted your administrative remedies with the federal government. Here, the federal government would review your claim and determine whether they believe that you are owed money. Then, they would make a settlement offer in an attempt to resolve your claim. You would have the ability to negotiate compensation with the government. If you cannot reach a resolution of your case, then you can go to federal court.
How much will a Camp Lejeune lawsuit attorney cost me?
You do not need to pay an attorney upfront for any costs. This is the same principle that applies in any personal injury case. You would also not need to pay anything unless you win your case. If you successfully resolve your claim for a settlement, or you take your case to trial and get a jury award, you would then need to pay your attorney. The money would not come out of your pocket. Instead, you pay an attorney out of the proceeds of your settlement. There is no risk to you in hiring a personal injury lawyer for your case.
Will the government automatically pay my claim?
No. You would still need to prove a connection between the toxic Camp Lejeune water and your illness. The good news is that the Camp Lejeune Justice act introduces a somewhat reduced standard of causation that makes it easier for you to prove your claim. According to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, you can be paid for harm:
- That was caused by exposure to the water;
- That was associated with exposure to the water;
- That was linked to exposure to the water; or
- The exposure to the water increased the likelihood of such harm.
You may even be able to prove your case through the use of scientific studies.
What if my loved one died from their Camp Lejeune illness?
Your family can file a wrongful death claim against the federal government. It does not matter how long ago your loved one died. In a wrongful death claim, your family is paid the damages that they suffered when your loved one died. These damages could include the lost wages that your loved one would have earned, payment for the loss of a close relationship with your family member, and the grief that families endure when they lose a loved one to someone else’s wrongful actions. You may also be paid for what your loved one and word between the time that they were sickened and the time that died.
How much is my Camp Lejeune claim worth?
Everything depends on your own unique circumstances. Personal injury damages consider your own specific suffering and compensate you accordingly. It is too early to tell how the government may treat these damages in its offers of compensation. Although the government is not allowed to pay punitive damages, there are no other principles that would allow them to pay you less than any other plaintiff would. Congress has already estimated that Camp Lejeune claims will cost the government at least $6 billion. There are no limits on the amount that the government would need to pay to people who file claims. In other words, Congress does not need to appropriate money for Camp Lejeune settlements.
Does getting a Camp Lejeune settlement or jury award affect my veterans benefits?
No. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act specifically says that your claim settlement would not lower the amount of veteran benefits that you would receive. Further, you do not need to reimburse the Veterans Administration if you were one of the fortunate injured service members who already received benefits for your Camp Lejeune injuries. Separately, the Veterans Administration is attempting to address issues that it experienced in processing and handling disability claims. An Inspector General report found that the VA was woefully unprepared to handle these claims and used inconsistent standards in denying many of the applications for benefits that were filed.
Will the Camp Lejeune claims be filed as a class-action lawsuit?
Some attorneys have already filed Camp Lejeune lawsuits However, the Camp lejeune water lawsuits will not be class action lawsuits. Your lawsuit will be filed individually because you may not have suffered the same exact harm as someone else did. Recently, a federal judge has denied two separate motions to consolidate cases for purposes of a class-action lawsuit.
If you or a loved one have been injured by toxic Camp Lejeune water, you should contact an experienced Camp Lejeune water lawsuit attorney today to discuss your case. An attorney will give you a free consultation where they will advise you of your legal options and give you some idea of the strength of your case.