Since mid-2022, one news that is frequenting the headlines is that of legal justice granted to victims of North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. In August of that year, President Joe Biden officially passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which changed the legal recourse for military servicemen.
Up until then, two major problems stood in their way – the Federal government’s sovereign immunity in court and the infamous Feres doctrine. As per the former, the government cannot be sued without its consent. The latter stated that military members could not sue the government for any injuries sustained during duty.
The CLJA dropped both so that victims of Camp Lejeune could seek legal justice and compensation for their injuries. However, what does this incident mean for British military servicemen? In this article, we will discuss the Camp Lejeune lawsuit’s significance in that light.
The Sad Story of Camp Lejeune
If there is one water contamination disaster in the US of historic proportions, it has to be North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. Opened in 1942 to serve as a military training ground, Camp Lejeune became notorious decades later for three contaminated water tanks – Hadnot Point, Holcomb Boulevard, and Tarawa Terrace.
By 1982, it was discovered that an offsite dry cleaning company was responsible for this tragedy. Its byproduct (primarily perchloroethylene) had polluted the groundwater. Despite the discovery, the three tanks were closed in 1985.
Essentially, those stationed at the Base between 1953 and 1987 had consumed the Camp’s toxic water. Gradually, cases of life-threatening conditions like breast cancer, bladder cancer, blood cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple myeloma, etc., emerged. Over the decades that followed the water tanks’ shutdown, at least one million people were affected to varying degrees.
President Joe Biden Opens the Door to Justice
As mentioned earlier, President Joe Biden made legal justice possible through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. This move came as a salve to the victims’ gaping wounds. It appeared to be in their highest interest because previously, the door to true justice was closed.
The Obama administration may have granted free medical aid to the victims, but that alone was not enough. The government was largely responsible for the disaster and needed to surrender its sovereign immunity. The CLJA permitted victims to first file an administrative claim for their injuries.
If the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) made no settlement offers within six months, the claimant was free to file a Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit. With a statute of limitations of two years from the date the Bill was passed, all victims were given time till August 2024 to file their claims.
What about Former British Servicemen and Their Dependents?
According to TorHoerman Law, the general criterion for Camp Lejeune administrative claim filing was that the victim should have spent 30 cumulative days at the Base between August 1953 and December 1987. Around this time, even British soldiers teamed up with the US Marines for training (thousands of them).
This means the law’s rights extend to British military servicemen and their families who have suffered injuries at Camp Lejeune. It’s important to remember the timeline of the event (30 to 70 years ago). Most victims may be advanced in age or too frail and sickly due to their injuries.
Families of former British soldiers should ask them if they were stationed at Camp Lejeune around the said period. Veteran associations and groups can help raise awareness about the litigation. If a veteran’s stay at the Camp exceeded 30 days (between August 1953 and December 1987), they can file an administrative claim with the US Navy JAG.
Current Status of the Litigation
Now that we have stated that British soldiers can seek justice for injuries sustained due to Camp Lejeune, let’s discuss where the litigation currently stands. This is important because the first settlements have already been made (six of them), and attorneys are preparing for Bellwether trials.
Initially, the plaintiff’s counsel was unimpressed with the litigation’s pace. The Navy was playing every possible trick in its books to avoid fair compensation. It delayed claim settlements due to “staffing and funding shortages.” Later, an elective option or early settlement program was introduced to expedite claims.
By this time (September 2023), over 100,000 claims had been filed and thousands had turned into lawsuits. Somehow, the litigation has progressed to a position where six settlements (totaling $2 million) have been made. However, the roadblocks are not yet over.
It was recently predicted that 85% of the claims for early settlement will get disqualified. This means they will have to end up in trial. The saddest part about this is that most plaintiffs do not have much time left to fight. This means these personal injury lawsuits will become wrongful death cases taken over by the plaintiff’s family members.
Even now, the plaintiff’s counsel has lost many of their original clients to injuries or natural causes. Currently, both parties are rigorously preparing for Bellwether trials to be held early this year. The injuries for Track 1 have been selected, including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, kidney cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.
There still seems to be some disagreement between both sides, but 100 cases have been selected (50 from each party). Moreover, a settlement conference is scheduled to take place in Raleigh on January 24th for 40 cases.
Attorneys are having the ‘settlement talk’ with their clients to clarify their stance and determine payouts. This may sound good, but in light of over 100,000 cases, it’s a given that they cannot be settled 40 at a time.
In the final analysis, President Biden’s CLJA has paved the way for British military members to also have legal justice. However, the litigation’s progress can best be described as slow and concerning. The question of the hour is not whether all claims/lawsuits will be settled but a matter of when.
Plaintiff attorneys are expressing concerns regarding the constant delays as they would only reduce the chances of fair compensation. Above all else, many plaintiffs will have to renounce all hopes of justice so long as they shall live.