Historic New Law Paves Way for Camp LeJeune Water Contamination Claims - Newsome | Melton Law
 
  • The main gate to the Camp Lejeune Marine Base outside Jacksonville, N.C.

Extensive scientific research demonstrates that those who lived and worked at Camp LeJeune from the 1950s through 1980s were exposed to harmful toxins as a result of water contamination. This exposure has been linked to many types of cancers, neurobehavioral conditions, and other health problems. Until now, time limitations and other legal barriers prevented veterans, their family members, and others who lived or worked at the base from bringing a lawsuit to recover financial compensation for their injuries. But that injustice has now been addressed with the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, a landmark law that will enable veterans, their families, and others to recover the compensation they have long deserved.

How and When Did the Camp LeJeune Water Systems Become Contaminated?  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared Camp LeJuene to be a “Superfund Site”—an official designation for polluted areas requiring a long-term cleanup response—in the 1980s. The contamination was sourced to the  Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard water treatment systems. Contaminated water from the three systems infiltrated the drinking water for most of the base’s family housing. As a result, servicemembers, their families, and others who lived and worked on the base drank harmful toxins which made them susceptible to developing a host of permanent and fatal conditions, as will be described further below.

Hadnot Point began operations in 1942 and was the first system to supply drinking water throughout the base. The main contaminant in the Hadnot Point system was trichloroethylene (TCE), with maximum drinking water levels of 1,400 parts per billion (ppb) detected in 1982—far exceeding the current TCE limits of just 5 ppb. The TCE contamination stemmed from multiple sources, including leaky underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites. The majority of the Hadnot Point contaminated wells were closed down in 1985.

Tarawa Terrace was primarily contaminated by tetrachloroethylene (aka PCE), a dry-cleaning solvent. Researchers estimate that the Tarawa Terrace contamination began around 1957. ABC One-Hour Cleaners started providing dry-cleaning services about 900 feet to the southeast of one of the Tarawa Terrace wells in 1953 and is the only documented source of groundwater PCE contamination for the system. The Marine Corps shut down Tarawa Terrace in 1987.

The Holcomb Boulevard system began operations much later, in June 1972. This system was generally not contaminated, but it was supplied with contaminated water from Hadnot Point on an intermittent basis, including from January 27 through February 7, 1985 and during high-demand spring and summer months from 1972 through 1985.

What are the Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Camp LeJeune Water Contamination?

Camp LeJeune water contamination has been linked to a wide array of serious and even fatal diseases and conditions. Those diseases and conditions include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth defects
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

But research into the health effects of the contamination remains ongoing. As a result, it’s not possible to definitively list all of the possible conditions that may be caused by exposure to the contaminated water. This means that each case must be analyzed on an individualized basis; there is no simple cookie cutter approach to evaluating a potential claim. A qualified, experienced attorney can help you determine whether the disease or condition suffered by you or a loved one may be legally attributable to the Camp LeJeune water contamination.

What is the Camp LeJeune Justice Act?

The Camp LeJeune Justice Act was signed into law on August 10, 2022 as part of a larger sweeping legislative package entitled the “Honoring our PACT Act of 2022.” The new law creates a “cause of action”—meaning the legal right to bring a lawsuit for financial compensation—to veterans and others who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp LeJeune for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.

The Act is significant because, up until now, veterans and their families, as well as others who lived or worked at Camp LeJeune, were unable to bring lawsuits for diseases and other health conditions caused by the water contamination. The Act addresses this problem head-on by knocking down the most formidable legal defenses—the “statute of limitations,” “statute of repose,” and “sovereign immunity.” The statutes of limitations and repose are rules which prevent someone from bringing a lawsuit after a certain period of time has gone by, and the sovereign immunity doctrine generally prevents the federal government from being sued outside of very limited exceptions. In knocking down these barriers, the Act has cleared the way for much needed financial compensation for injuries and deaths suffered by veterans, their family members, and others residing and working at Camp LeJeune.

Compensation will not be automatic, however. As with any other lawsuit, claimants will have to prove their case via evidence. In particular, they will have to present “evidence showing that the relationship between exposure to the water at Camp LeJeune and the harm is” either (a) “sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship exists;” or (b) “sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is at least as likely as not.”

In other words, the Act provides an important opportunity, but it is by no means a guarantee. Developing the necessary evidence will be critical for claimants to recover the most they can. Those who fail to prove their case will not receive financial compensation. And those who fail to make their case as strong as possible will receive less compensation than what they otherwise could and should receive. As a result, it’s critical to retain an experienced attorney who can present the strongest case possible on your behalf.

How is a Camp LeJeune Lawsuit Different from a VA Disability Claim?

Camp LeJeune lawsuits are completely different from Veterans Administration claims. VA benefits are limited and generally focus on medical bills and costs. A lawsuit, however, allows for far greater types and amounts of compensation, including for pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages provided by the civil justice system. This means that a Camp LeJeune lawsuit can result in far more financial compensation than would be provided by VA benefits alone.

Because the claims are different, qualified individuals can file a Camp LeJeune lawsuit even after receiving VA benefits. If the claimant receives money from both sources, the amount of the VA benefits will simply be subtracted from the lawsuit award. So, for example, if a claimant has received $25,000 in VA benefits and goes on to be awarded $300,000 from a Camp LeJeune lawsuit, then $25,000 would be subtracted from the $300,000 lawsuit award. In that scenario, filing the lawsuit resulted in additional compensation in the amount of $275,000—meaning that they would receive over a quarter million more dollars more than they would have received had they only pursued VA benefits alone. Please note that this is just a hypothetical example. There are no guarantees in litigation and each case must be evaluated on its own merits.  

Call Us with Questions and to Get Started with Your Claim.

The Camp LeJeune Justice Act is a landmark law that provides a vital opportunity for veterans, their families, and others to obtain much needed financial compensation. But the process is not automatic or easy; those wishing to pursue claims will have to file a lawsuit in federal court and then present the evidence needed to win the case.

If you believe you or a loved one might have a claim, please give us a call at (888) 261-5614 or send us an email at inquiry@newsomelaw.com. We dedicate our practice to helping individuals and their families obtain the justice and financial compensation they deserve for severe and fatal injuries. A member of our team will be happy to speak with you, free of charge, to answer your questions and discuss your potential claim.