Final Camp Lejeune Deadline Approaching

Marines and their family members who drank contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, have until August 10, 2024, to file legal claims.

People who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 may be eligible to file a lawsuit. The victim (or decedent) must have lived or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least thirty days and must have a diagnosis of a certain illness, such as leukemia.

Once the claims deadline passes, victims will, once again, be ineligible to file legal actions, regardless of their damages. VA disability might still be an option, but lesser compensation is available in these matters.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Winston Churchill said a critical early victory in World War II was not the end or the beginning of the end. But it was the end of the beginning. Similarly, the Camp Lejeune claims deadline is the end of the beginning of what has been a very long process.

  • 1953 (Or Maybe 1950): VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a chemical cocktail that includes toxins such as perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), leaked into drinking water wells at various locations in the sprawling compound. Probable sources include a large ammunition storage dump, industrial solvent chemical runoff, and LUST (leaking underground storage tanks).
  • 1980-81: New EPA environmental quality rules prompted water testing at Camp Lejeune. The  U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency found halogenated hydrocarbons in the water. A 1981 follow-up report, which was delivered to U.S. Marine officials, said the water supply was “highly contaminated.”
  • 1982-83: The Marines hired an outside company, Grainger Laboratories, hoping for different test results. Instead, it was more of the same. in August 1982, a Grainger chemist, Bruce Babson, sent a letter to the base commander, Marine Major General D. J. Fulham, warning him that the base wells appeared to be poisoned. The water from the contaminated wells, however, continued in use at the base. Further warnings followed, which the Marines ignored. In December 1983, Lejeune officials scaled back the water testing performed by Grainger.
  • 1997: A controversial Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigation concluded that cancer derived from exposure to the water was unlikely. 
  • 2007: This incident might be the smoking gun. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine master sergeant, found a document dated 1981 that described a radioactive dump site near a rifle range at the camp. According to the report, the waste was laced with strontium-90, an isotope known to cause leukemia and other cancers. According to Camp Lejeune’s installation restoration program manager, base officials learned in 2004 about the 1981 document. Ensminger served in the Marine Corps for 24 and a half years and lived for part of that time at Camp Lejeune. In 1985, his 9-year-old daughter, Janey, died of cancer.
  • 2009: The ATSDR admitted that the water had been contaminated with benzene and withdrew its 1997 report. The benzene most likely occurred as a result of 800,000 gallons of fuel that leaked from the base fuel farm during the years in question. The fuel leaks occurred near the main well that serves Hadnot Point, the location of enlisted and officers’ quarters, as well as the base hospital.
  • 2010: Paul Buckley, a USMC veteran who was diagnosed with incurable hematological malignancy, was stationed at Camp Lejeune in the 1980s. In March 2010, the VA determined that Buckley’s cancer was directly linked to his ingestion of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and awarded him 100% disability benefits.

Due to the number of people affected (perhaps 200,000) and the many years of denial, the Camp Lejeune settlement could be in the billions of dollars. 

The Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Process

We know what you are thinking. If the smoking gun appeared in 2007, why didn’t victims immediately file civil lawsuits?

A good Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer does not immediately run to the courthouse. Instead, lawyers usually give negligent companies., like the Marine Corps, a chance to do the right thing. A lawsuit is only an option if the responsible company refuses to step up to the plate, which is what happened in this case.

Additionally, North Carolina has a ten-year statute of repose. Except in certain limited cases, none of which applied to Camp Lejeune water contamination, victims have 10 years from the date of defect to bring injury actions. That ten-year period expired many years before the first lawsuits were filed in 2009.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act suspended the statute of repose, giving victims a chance to file legal actions and obtain compensation for their injuries. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Given the extreme facts in this case, as outlined above, additional punitive damages will almost certainly be available as well.

The statute of repose is the biggest procedural hurdle in this matter. However, a few others remain. Assuming plaintiffs overcome these hurdles, which seems likely, the government will almost certainly settle the case out of court.

MDL Settlements

Because of the volume of cases, courts have consolidated all Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits into one court. The MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) process consolidates similar actions for pretrial purposes.

MDL settlements are usually structured settlements. So, the amount each plaintiff receives depends not only on the extent of the victim’s (or survivor’s) damages but also on the timing of the lawsuit.

Tier One plaintiffs usually receive preferential status. Plaintiffs that come forward early, partner with lawyers, and do most of the heavy lifting get the lion’s share of MDL settlement money. Tier One timelines won’t be known until the settlement papers are drawn up.

Since this lawsuit has been going on for over a year, the Tier One deadline may have passed. Tier Two is another matter. These plaintiffs are wait-and-see plaintiffs. They do not immediately take a risk and dive into the deep end. Instead, they wait until a settlement seems likely before they jump into the pool. Since they do less work, they get less money.

Tier Three plaintiffs, who file actions at the eleventh hour, get whatever is left over. You do not want to be in Tier Three. To catch the Camp Lejeune water contamination train before it leaves the station, reach out to Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.