August 10, 2023, marks the first anniversary of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, a pivotal legislation within the broader Honoring Our PACT Act.
The journey since the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act has been slow, but is finally starting to take shape.
In this article, we will delve into the strides made since the enactment of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, including the ongoing efforts by the Plaintiffs' attorneys involved in this litigation, who are seeking justice for those injured by exposure to the contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune. Let's start at the beginning.
The Background and Timeline
The events leading up to the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act are paramount to understanding the significance of this legislation. Here is a timeline of key events:
- 1941: Camp Lejeune, a United States Marine Corps base in North Carolina, was established.
- 1950s - 1980s: Contamination occurred to the drinking water supply on the base due to various industrial activities and improper waste disposal practices.
- 1980s: Toxic chemicals were discovered in the drinking water, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other carcinogens.
- 1999: The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a public health advisory regarding the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.
- 2009: The first lawsuit was filed regarding the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.
- 2012: The Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act was signed into law. This legislation provided authority for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide medical treatment to certain veterans and their eligible family members related to certain conditions caused by exposure to the toxic water on the base.
- 2015: The VA announced its intent to establish rules creating a presumptive link between certain diseases and Camp Lejeune service during the applicable period, allowing expanded VA benefits.
- 2017: The VA enacted rules creating a presumptive link between certain diseases and service at Camp Lejeune. These rules allowed certain veterans and dependents to receive limited benefits.
- August 10, 2022: The Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which included the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, was signed into law.
- July 2023: The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina appointed lead attorneys in the Camp Lejeune litigation. Shortly thereafter, the court-appointed leadership group selected additional attorneys to serve on the Plaintiffs' Executive and Steering Committees, and subcommittee assignments were made.
Where Things Stand
While the exact number is unknown, it is believed that the Navy has now received in excess of 50,000 administrative claims, with over 1,000 lawsuits filed against the United States Government in federal court. Unfortunately, the federal government has yet to provide any resolution or compensation. Furthermore, the government has defended itself in the Justice Act lawsuits, arguing, among other things, that Marines, their spouses, and their children were negligent and that such individuals assumed the risk of the contaminated water. This lack of accountability is concerning. You can read more about the Government's defenses here.
Impact and Changes
As mentioned, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act created a way for veterans and civilians to file claims against the U.S. Government for harm caused by exposure to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. The bipartisan bill also prevented the federal government from claiming sovereign immunity to prevent claimants from recovering damages.
The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination lawsuits, considered one of the largest litigation matters in U.S. history, are complicated by a complex web of legal issues that the Court will have to resolve. With its far-reaching impact and gravity, these cases demand significant manpower and resources to navigate the intricate path toward justice to ensure that the victims receive the rightful redress they deserve.
Part of the process to bring a resolution to the litigation is the appointment of attorneys and the creation of committees and subcommittees. Each committee and subcommittee works as a cog in the machine to move the legal process forward.
Camp Lejeune Court-Appointed Attorneys, Committees, and Subcommittees: What Does It All Mean?
In July, the U.S. District Judges overseeing the Camp Lejeune claims appointed a select group of attorneys to assume leadership roles to manage all aspects of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination litigation. Shortly thereafter, the naming of committee and subcommittee members commenced. Let's delve into the layout of these developments and what you may see and hear over the coming weeks:
Lead and Co-Lead Counsel: The Court has designated one attorney as the lead counsel and six attorneys as co-lead counsel. This seven-member team manages and oversees all litigation activities related to the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination litigation. It will offer guidance, supervision, and coordination of the responsibilities assigned to the Plaintiffs' Executive and Steering Committees.
Liaison Counsel: This two-member team is the point of contact between the Court, the Plaintiffs' leadership, and the unrepresented victims. The Court appointed Ward and Smith attorneys Charles Ellis and Ret. Major General Hugh Overholt as this two-member team, and they now serve as the vital link between the Court and the parties.
Plaintiffs' Executive Committee: The purpose of this committee is to support and advise the lead and co-lead counsel in coordinating and conducting these proceedings. Additionally, committee members contribute to subcommittees responsible for implementing a comprehensive litigation plan and ensuring oversight, accountability, and coordination throughout the entire process. Ward and Smith attorney Lynwood Evans serves on the Executive Committee and was appointed to the Law and Briefing Subcommittee.
Plaintiffs' Steering Committee: This committee takes the lead in initiating, coordinating, and conducting all aspects of the discovery process on behalf of and for the benefit of all Plaintiffs involved in the litigation. Furthermore, it plays a pivotal role in developing and presenting scientific methodologies to evaluate harm caused to the Plaintiffs, devising effective strategies for resolution, and submitting any necessary motions to the Court.
Subcommittees: Subcommittees are established to address specific areas within the litigation plan. Currently, there are eight subcommittees: Plaintiff Criteria/Bellwether, Government Liaison, Database Development, Resolution, Science and Experts, Administrative and Common Benefit, Law and Briefing, and Discovery and ESI. Lead and co-lead counsel have the authority to add additional subcommittees as necessary.
Continuing the Fight for Justice
Despite the progress reported, the road ahead is still unknown, and the finish line is not yet in sight. Ward and Smith remains dedicated to helping those affected by exposure to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune to receive justice in whatever form it may come. We are actively involved in litigating Camp Lejeune Water Contamination cases, and three Ward and Smith attorneys are serving in leadership roles for the Plaintiffs' team in the litigation. We also believe that education is essential in bringing awareness to a situation of this magnitude and ensuring that victims receive the support they need and deserve.
The first anniversary of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act marks a significant milestone in pursuing justice for those impacted by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act has brought about crucial changes, including compensation and healthcare benefits, increased awareness, and ongoing litigation progress. With continued efforts and support, we hope to see further advancements in addressing the needs of those affected and ensuring a just resolution to this long-standing issue.