Why Is There a Delay in Camp Lejeune Verdicts?

A Navy base in North Carolina (NC) called Camp Lejeune is facing serious legal action for water contamination. Due to illegal waste disposal methods, over one million residents were exposed to harsh volatile organic compounds (VOCs) between 1953 and 1987.

However, it wasn’t until 2022 that the victims could finally take the first step towards receiving the justice they deserved. Why? That’s because the Navy tried to cover up this massive contamination incident.

But victims became hopeful when the Biden government signed the Honoring Our PACT Act in August 2022. Section 804 of this law is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which allows affected individuals to file new lawsuits against the government.

Since then, the plaintiffs have had high hopes for positive outcomes. However, massive trial delays due to staff shortages and legal loopholes threaten the verdict of this ongoing lawsuit.

In this blog, we will discuss the reasons why such delays are occurring and the future of the Camp Lejeune case.

The Camp Lejeune Incident: A Disaster to Remember

Located in Onslow County, NC, the Camp Lejeune military base was established in the 1940s, spanning 233 square miles. Everything was going great, and this base was the pride of America.

However, in the early 1980s, researchers discovered VOCs in two water treatment plants. Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point had high concentrations of solvents like perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). These wells supplied drinking water to various housing complexes on the base.

Further investigations proved that this contamination began in 1953 when an off-base dry-cleaning company started improperly disposing of solvents and chemicals. Moreover, accidental spills from on-base industrial sites contributed to this contamination.

Veterans, civilians, and workers used this contaminated water for drinking, cooking, and bathing for over thirty years. As a result, they developed health issues like all types of cancer, ALS, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, etc.

Once researchers linked their health issues to water contamination, victims were furious. They wanted compensation for their illnesses. However, they could only register a Camp Lejeune toxic water lawsuit once the 2022 CLJA was passed. The legal industry predicts that individual payouts can range between USD 10,000 and USD 1,000,000 or more.

According to TorHoerman Law, affected individuals can seek compensation for pain, lost wages, medical bills, permanent disability, etc. To have a favorable verdict, victims must present proof of residence, medical information, travel records, and more.

Why Are Camp Lejeune Verdicts Delayed?

The government has promised to pay millions of dollars to the Lejeune victims. Therefore, scammers have targeted this case and made hundreds of bogus claims. These fake lawsuits threaten, disrupt, and taint the payouts, leading to massive trial delays.

Apart from this incident, there are other reasons why the verdicts are being delayed:

  • A Navy Attorney Blamed Staff Shortages

In May 2023, Jennifer Tennile Karnes, a Navy attorney, stated that nearly 500 law firms had taken on Camp Lejeune clients. Moreover, lawyers have worked overtime to sustain and process all the claims and bring justice. She also stated that the legal industry might double its staff to accommodate future lawsuits.

While the Lejeune lawyers did their best, the government fell short of its promises. The Navy didn’t have enough staffing or money to review each Camp Lejeune compensation claim quickly. Karnes also stated that Congress forgot to approve the extra funds required to manage and build the Lejeune compensations.

Even though they were aware of this shortage, the government didn’t do anything to solve it. That’s why thousands of claims were being sidelined and delayed.

Today, the Navy’s lack of solutions and the verdict’s slow pace have outraged the veterans. Unfortunately, some victims are dying as they wait for their rightful compensation.

The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) wanted answers to why the defendants are delaying responding to the thousands of claims. SECNAV mentioned that the victims of the Lejeune water crisis were stuck in a “bureaucratic waiting game.” He stated that the victims should receive a realistic timeline because the delays are making the plaintiffs suffer more.

The delay in processing the Camp Lejeune claims has insulted the injured victims, their lawyers, and their dependents. Everyone is furious because of the Navy’s inability to expeditiously process all the claims.

  • Defendants Don’t Want Jury Trials

The Camp Lejeune defendants have tried to use various legal loopholes to delay trials and avoid high compensation. In November 2023, they filed a motion to ban the need for jury trials in the cases. The Navy claimed that the CLJA doesn’t specify the need for jury trials.

Therefore, the defendants wanted the court to approve their bench trial request. They would have an upper hand because bench trials are easier to schedule, and the judges can be less generous to the plaintiffs. Ideally, the judge doesn’t leverage emotion to pass a verdict in such trials, and the plaintiffs cannot appeal the results.

In response, the victims passed a motion to argue the misguided efforts by the defendants to ban jury trials. They stated that CLJA specifically intended for the Camp Lejeune victims to tell their story to a jury. The lawyers also mentioned that Congress had unambiguously and affirmatively granted this right because the case is humanitarian.

The Future of Camp Lejeune Cases

According to Bloomberg Law, the government announced a program for the early resolution of the Camp Lejeune claims. Only undisputed claims are eligible for this program. Overall, plaintiffs can receive USD 100,000 to USD 550,000, depending on the strength of their claim.

This lawsuit can eventually become the largest mass tort case in American history if there are no disruptions. The total claim amounts have already exceeded USD 3.3 trillion. Right now, there are over 129,000 lawsuits filed, and the legal industry expects more by August 2024.

The first trial, with 50 lawsuits for bellwether cases, is set to begin in 2024. These claims will determine the future of the Camp Lejeune verdicts.

In summary, many Camp Lejeune victims and their families are left behind with crushing medical bills. It’s been almost 71 years since the contamination started. But thousands of victims are yet to receive their rightful compensation. Plaintiffs blame the Navy’s inability to offer help and their eagerness to exploit legal loopholes.

The victims cannot do anything but wait for justice to be served. But the government must address and overcome all the hurdles that complicate the path to justice.

Categories Law