Posted by : Irvin Jackson
Judge questions whether Camp Lejeune Justice Act requirements were satisfied before lawsuits were filed days after new law went into effect.
October 07, 2022
By: Irvin Jackson
Within days after President Biden signed the Honoring Our PACT Act in August 2022, dozens of Camp Lejeune lawsuits were filed seeking damages for injuries caused by contaminated water at the base between 1953 and 1987. However, a federal judge has recently questioned whether several of these early claims complied with notice requirements under the new law.
Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, which was plagued with water contamination problems that exposed millions of service members, family members and other individuals to toxic chemicals between the mid-1950s and late-1980s.
Although various cancers and other devastating injuries have been directly linked to contaminants in the water, by the time the extent of the problems were discovered, the North Carolina statute of limitations barred any claims from being pursued against the U.S. government for injuries suffered by individuals who drank and bathed in the water.
On August 10, President Biden signed landmark new legislation, which corrected the federal governments failure to compensate veterans and military family members, opening a two year window for Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits to be filed to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which has been granted exclusive jurisdiction over the claims.
Learn More About Camp Lejeune lawsuits
Water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987 caused cancers, birth defects, miscarriages and other side effects for U.S. Marines and their family members.
- Motion to Consolidate Camp Lejeune Justice Act Lawsuits Denied By U.S. District Judge(9/19/22)
- About 5,000 Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Injury Claims Already Filed Since New Law Enacted Last Month(9/15/22)
- Camp Lejeune Birth Defects Lawsuit Filed By Six Military Family Members Exposed to Water In Utero(8/31/22)
According to the requirements of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which was signed into law on August 10, notice of each claim must be filed with the U.S. Department of the Navy, and a lawsuit can only be filed after the claim is rejected in writing or the government fails to make a final disposition within six months.
The U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office reported last month that notice of at least 5,000 Camp Lejeune water contamination claims were filed during the first few weeks after the new law went into effect. However, there have also been several dozen lawsuits filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina by individuals who previously presented claims against the U.S. Government under the federal tort claims act, which were denied.
Lawsuits Under Camp Lejeune Justice Act May Have Been Premature
One of the first Camp Lejeune lawsuits filed after the passage of the PACT Act was a joint complaint (PDF) the same day the new law was signed, involving claims for John Belt, Jr., Joyce Luken, representing the estate of John B. Luken, and Beverly McClain, on behalf of herself and the estate of Rudy McClain. Each of the plaintiffs indicated that they, or their deceased family members, developed liver cancer after they were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days in the 1960s and 1970s.
According to the lawsuit Belt previously filed notice of an administrative claim with the U.S. government in 2015; Joyce Luken filed a claim on behalf of her deceased father in March 2012; and Beverly McClain filed two administrative claims, one for herself and one for her late husband, in June 2014. Each of those claims were denied under the federal tort claims act, and the plaintiffs new seek compensation under the new Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Belt, Luken, McClain and other plaintiffs joined together last month to file a joint motion to consolidate the Camp Lejeune lawsuits before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
In a series of orders (PDF) issued on September 29, U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III denied the motion to consolidate the litigation, and independently raised questions about whether the lawsuit filed by Belt and other plaintiffs were premature under the requirements of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
“In the motion to consolidate, the United States argues that plaintiffs have not complied with the administrative exhaustion requirement in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. The argument appears to have force given the timing of plaintiffs’ lawsuits,” Judge Dever wrote in the Order.
Plaintiffs have been directed to produce evidence by October 21, 2022, demonstrating that they complied with the Camp Lejeune Justice Act requirement, including the date each claim was submitted and the date the U.S. government denied the claim under the Act, together with any brief explaining how an administrative claim brought before the Camp Lejeune Justice Act became law complies with the new requirements.
Any response by the U.S. government must be filed by November 10, and the plaintiffs can file a final reply by November 17, 2022. Judge Dever indicates the Court will then decide whether to dismiss the early Camp Lejeune lawsuits without prejudice to refile after exhausting administrative remedies required by the new law.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act Filing Requirements
The requirements stipulate that before filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government, notice of the Camp Lejeune water contamination claim must be provided to the appropriate federal agency under the requirements of 28 U.S. Code § 2675.
The U.S. Navy JAG Corps has posted information about how to file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, outlining the required steps needed to file a Camp Lejeune water lawsuit. The agency indicates even claims previously denied under the Federal Tort Claims Act over water contamination at Camp Lejeune, must still be refiled for consideration under the new law.
Each claimant must file a Camp Lejeune Justice Act Claim form (PDF), providing specific information about their claim, including:
- Status at time of exposure to Camp Lejeune water (Member of the Armed Forces; Military Family Member or Dependent; Civil Service Employee; Civilian; Contractor Working for Private Company on Base; Unborn Individual Exposed In Utero)
- Where you resided at the time of exposure (Terawa Terrace Housing; Hospital Point Housing; Other On-Base Housing; Outside of Camp Lejeune)
- Whether you worked at Hadnot Point Industrial Area in Camp Lejeune
- Nature of your injury (Personal Injury Caused by Water at Camp Lejeune; Wrongful Death Following Exposure to Camp Lejeune Water)
- Specific type of cancer or other injury that is the basis of the Camp Lejeune lawsuit
The form also requires that each individual specify the amount of their Camp Lejeune claim in U.S. dollars, certifying that it will be accepted as a full and final Camp Lejeune water settlement amount if offered by the U.S. Government. Failure to specify the total amount of damages sought from the Camp Lejeune water contamination during this process may result in a forfeiture of their rights.
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Learn more about claims available under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, and settlements that may be available for individuals exposed to toxic water between 1953 and 1987.
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