It’s been a year since President Joe Biden officially signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA). Veterans and their families affected by the Marine Base’s toxic waters filed administrative claims in hopes of justice and compensation.
The US Navy revealed that they have received as many as 93,000+ claims. Besides, many more were expected in light of the two-year filing window. Up until the second quarter of 2023, the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) had yet to settle a single claim.
The main issues cited were staffing shortages and a lack of Congress funding. Meanwhile, at least 1,100 lawsuits were filed since the claim resolution deadline (six months) was far behind. Several frustrating months later, the Camp Lejeune litigation has made some progress.
However, there are still roadblocks to overcome, and the outcome is not as expected. This article will discuss the current state of the Camp Lejeune litigation in detail.
The Issue of Dueling Proposals
By the end of August 2023, the presiding judges were to inspect the case management plan for the upcoming trial. However, the plaintiff’s counsel and the Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys could not see eye to eye on certain matters.
The major clash between the two parties involved the management of lawsuits over the Camp Lejeune payout per person. Given the litigation’s timeline, plaintiff lawyers argued that multiple cases must be consolidated for a single trial. After all, the victims had waited too long for justice, with many even succumbing to their injuries.
The plaintiff’s counsel also proposed a trial date in the first quarter of 2024. The DOJ’s lawyers agreed that the trial must be pushed till early 2024. Nevertheless, they vehemently opposed the case consolidation, stating that such a decision must only be made after discovery.
According to TorHoerman Law, the average payout depends upon the strength of an individual case. It could range anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000 based on the victim’s injuries, their severity, economic losses, and so on. Until early September, eyes were fixated on North Carolina judges for the next course of action.
On one hand, there was pressure to expedite the process; on the other, plaintiff attorneys were trying to extract fair settlements.
DOJ’s Settlement Program: Is It Simply a Means to Expedite the Process?
In a recent statement, the Navy’s Under Secretary, Erik Raven, assured that the Navy is doing its best to resolve every valid Camp Lejeune claim quickly. What is the proposed answer? The government established a settlement program in which the compensation offer extends from $100,000 to $450,000 for the victims.
It was mentioned that this program aims to accelerate the pace of the litigation and ensure plaintiffs receive fair settlements. So, what is the plaintiff counsel’s perspective about the settlements being fair? Given some of the injuries and plaintiffs’ struggles, the offer is not something to jump on.
The payouts are meager (with some exceptions). The proposed settlement program may not make sense for strong cases, but those with limited exposure may benefit. Let’s take an example – suppose a claimant spent just 40 days on Camp Lejeune Base. They were then diagnosed with bladder cancer 30 years later.
It was also discovered that they had a history of smoking tobacco (at least two packs a day for years before the cancer diagnosis). In such cases, it becomes challenging to prove that the Camp’s waters were directly responsible for the claimant’s injuries. These may find the rough settlement formula a favorable option.
But if the government earmarks such low figures to reduce claim numbers, it needs to work harder to sweeten the pot. The main issue with the settlement program is that it does not make any distinction based on the disease’s severity. The payouts are based on the duration spent on the Camp.
For instance – if a plaintiff stayed for five or more years in the Camp and developed Stage III kidney cancer, they could receive a $450,000 settlement. But, if they stayed for less than a year and developed kidney cancer (even Stage IV), the payout would drop down to $150,000.
Similarly, those who spent one to five years may be eligible to receive around $300,000 depending on their injuries. Does this system make sense? If plaintiffs are willing to settle for less than their case deserves to expedite the process, then yes.
What Does the Future Hold?
The plaintiff’s attorneys raised their concerns regarding the unfair settlement program. As a response, the Navy stated that assigning payout amounts based on disease severity would be too time-consuming.
This makes it clear that the government is presently only concerned with resolving the claims at the earliest. Those who settle now may indeed receive their compensation faster. However, many will have to live with less than they deserve.
Attorneys are fighting to remove such roadblocks and get the government to assign fair settlements on time. Only as the days progress will definite outcomes come to light.