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What Is Required Period Of Exposure To Qualify For Benefits? The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 requires that the person who suffered the harm resided, worked or was otherwise exposed to the toxic water was exposed for at least 30 days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953 and ending on December 31, 1987. The Act does not require that the 30 days were served sequentially or at the same time. For instance, if the person harmed was in Camp Lejeune for only 10 days in 1977, and another 20 days in 1983, the exposure would be covered under the Act. . .

FAQS: Camp Lejeune water contamination

What Is Required Period Of Exposure To Qualify For Benefits?

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 requires that the person who suffered the harm resided, worked or was otherwise exposed to the toxic water was exposed for at least 30 days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953 and ending on December 31, 1987. The Act does not require that the 30 days were served sequentially or at the same time. For instance, if the person harmed was in Camp Lejeune for only 10 days in 1977, and another 20 days in 1983, the exposure would be covered under the Act.

Where Can Lawsuits Be Filed Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 gives exclusive jurisdiction and venue to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Any lawsuits under the Act must be brought there. The Eastern District of North Carolina is a federal court, with courthouse locations in Raleigh, Greenville, Wilmington, New Bern and Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Must The Person Harmed Have Been In Active-Duty Military To Qualify Under The Camp Lejeune Justice?

No. Under U.S. law, this is a question of who has standing, meaning the right, to sue. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 applies to anyone, whether serving in the military or not, who resided, worked or was otherwise exposed to the toxic water. Any individuals, whether active-duty military or not, such as civilian contractors, are included. In utero victims are also included, meaning an individual who was in his/her mother’s womb when she was exposed to the toxic water. The harmed individual may be alive or have deceased. In the case of an incapacitated or deceased victim, the lawsuit may be filed by the person’s legal representative. The exposure must have been for 30 days anytime between August 1, 1953 to December 31, 1987 to qualify under the Act.

Is In Utero Exposure Covered By The Camp Lejeune Justice?

Yes, if the individual suffered as a result of water exposure by his/her mother while she was pregnant with him/her, the exposure would be covered by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. The victim may be alive presently or deceased, where a legal representative may file the legal action.

To What Must The Person Harmed Have Been Exposed Under The Camp Lejeune Justice?

The harmed individual must have been exposed to water at Camp Lejeune that was supplied by or on behalf of the United States. The exposure must have been for 30 days. Furthermore, it must have occurred anytime between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. Because not all of the water supply necessarily contained the toxins, in your lawsuit you and your lawyer should trace your water exposure to one or more of the locations where contamination occurred.

Will The Trial For A Lawsuit Be A Jury Trial Or A Judge Trial Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 entitles the person harmed (plaintiff) to request a jury trial. In other words, the jury would be the fact finder and render decisions about whether there is liability by the U.S. government, and the extent of damages awarded. However, the plaintiff may request the fact finder to be a judge instead. The decision is up to the plaintiff.

Who Has Is The Burden Of Proof In A Lawsuit Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

The Act sets the burden of proof on the plaintiff. The plaintiff is the injured party.

The term burden of proof refers to the legal standard requiring the parties to provide evidence of their claim. Since the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, if they fail to establish their proof, the United States government as the defendant is automatically held not liable. That is because there is no burden of proof on the U.S. government defendant.

What Is The Burden On Proof Does The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Place On The Plaintiff?

To meet their burden of proof and establish the U.S. government’s liability, the plaintiff must provide evidence to show a causal relationship between the exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune and the harm suffered. Two types of causality are recognized by the Act. The first is if the evidence is sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship exists between the exposure and harm suffered. The second recognized causality is if the evidence is sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is at least as likely as not, again between the exposure and harm suffered. The latter causal relationship sets a lower threshold and is therefore more beneficial to the plaintiff than the former.

Can Harmed Individuals Bring Legal Claims That Are Not Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

No. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 specifies that any individual or their legal representative that brings a lawsuit under the Act may not – whether in the same action or a subsequent legal action – bring another tort action for the harm. By way of examples: the individual may not sue the United States in the same suit or a later suit for negligence or another tort; the individual may not sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Military Claims Act, or any other federal law, or under any state law.

Are Legal Actions Brought Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Different Than Other Mass Tort Cases?

Yes. Claims may not be brought after the statute of limitations for the Act. The statute of limitations for the Act is the longer of (a) two years from the August 10, 2022 enactment date of the Act, namely August 10, 2024, or (b) six months from the date that Department of the Navy denies the claim. After the latter of these dates, claimants may not sue or submit claims for damages. The denial of the claim can be an actual denial by the Navy or a failure by the Navy to dispose of the victim’s claim within six months after it is filed.

Can Other Claims Be Brought?

No. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 specifies that any individual or their legal representative that brings a lawsuit under the Act may not – whether in the same action or a subsequent legal action – bring another tort action for the harm. By way of examples: the individual may not sue the United States in the same suit or a later suit for negligence or another tort; the individual may not sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Military Claims Act, or any other federal law, or under any state law.

Why Are Lawsuits Brought Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Not Consolidated Into Multidistrict Litigations (MDL) Like Other Mass Torts? And What Is An MDL For Mass Torts?

It is true that mass torts are typically consolidated into Multidistrict Litigations (MDL) at a common court, whereas MDL is inapplicable to claims brought under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.

By way of background, the “mass” in mass torts refers to the fact that the torts are suffered by many people. Claimants may bring claims in state or federal court depending on the causes of action implicated, and there may be dozens or even thousands of suits filed throughout the country. Claimants, through their lawyers, may opt to consolidate their cases with others at the same venue, or trial court, typically at a particular federal court.

Once there are many cases across the country, with many plaintiffs, to conserve judicial resources and promote consistent rulings among the many suits, a judicial panel called Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation will consolidate the many mass tort cases into a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). The panel judges will decide the jurisdiction and judges who will preside over the litigation.

The MDL is done for the pre-trial part of litigation, as the procedures require the cases to be sent back to their original judges for trial. As it is not feasible for the vast number of plaintiffs to have their individual lawyers conduct their cases, plaintiffs will select as among them a few experienced lawyers to serve as lead counsel and on a steering committee.

The MDL presiding judges will conduct one or more bellwether trials, which serve as actual trials for the particular plaintiffs involved but serve as test cases to determine what would or could happen for the other plaintiff’s cases. The resulting damages awarded or settlements obtained in the bellwether cases help the many plaintiffs and private party defendant ascertain the relative strength of the many other actions. Accordingly, they incentivize a settlement between the defendant and the many plaintiffs. Each plaintiff will have the option of joining the settlement or opting out to pursue their own trial at the originating federal trial court.

On the other hand, lawsuits filed under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act may not be filed anywhere other than the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The exclusive jurisdiction and venue are requirements under the Act. Since the cases cannot be filed in numerous federal or state courts, they need no consolidation since they are already consolidated, and an MDL for the cases would not apply. However, because it is estimated that between 750,000 and one million victims may have suffered injuries as a result of Camp Lejeune’s water contamination, the term mass tort is applicable.

Is It Significant That Most Mass Torts Are Against Private Parties But Camp Lejeune Justice Act Claims Are Against The U.S. Government?

Yes and yes. Mass torts are torts brought by many parties against one or few defendants. Typically, a product, medical device, pharmaceutical or source of toxicity caused by a single or a few defendants injured many individuals. The injured have no legal constraints against filing suits against the defendants because the law considers the defendants to be private persons.

However, the United States is not a private party but instead a sovereign power. Any sovereign power, typically a country, may immunize itself from civil actions brought in its own courts. In fact, the U.S. gave itself immunity from tort claims until 1946, when the Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C. § 2674) was passed. The Federal Torts Claims Act waived the government’s immunity to suit and liability for torts where, had government been a private party, it would have been liable. The applicable law would be that of the place where the act or omission happened.

Unfortunately for Camp Lejeune water toxicity victims, a North Carolina statute of repose bars suits filed 10 years from the last act or omission by the U.S. government that gave rise to claim. The federal government was able to use the statute of repose to dismiss the cases, and also won an appeal brought by the victims to a higher court.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act seeks to remedy this injustice by providing the victims a separate cause of action under its provisions.

Before The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, Were Any Lawsuits Filed By Camp Lejeune Victims? Under What Statute? Did They Win?

As noted, many Camp Lejeune victims and their representatives filed lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act for Camp Lejeune water contamination. Despite that they were tort claims filed in a federal court, they were subject to the tort laws of the state where the injury occurred, namely North Carolina. The multiplicity of cases were classified as a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) by a Multidistrict District Judicial Panel, and sent to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

The district court was required to apply North Carolina law, and here, North Carolina had in-effect a 10-year statute of repose. But the statute barred suits filed 10 years from the last act or omission by the defendant that gave rise to claim. After much legal wrangling, the cases brought by the Camp Lejeune victims, plaintiffs in the cases, were dismissed by the district court. The district court’s opinion was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on appeal.

The holding by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and the subsequent appeal the 11th Circuit took away any remedies available to Camp Lejeune victims. Despite that up to one million people are estimated to have been injured by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune – the largest in the nation’s history – they were left with no opportunity to receive awards or benefits for their medical bills and other drastic impacts on their lives.

It is in response to these harsh rulings enforcing an equally harsh North Carolina statute of repose that Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 on August 10 of the same year.

The Act specifies that no statute of repose or statute of limitations apply other than the Act’s own statute of limitations. The Act’s own statute of limitations provides that claims must be brought before the later of: the Act’s 2-year anniversary of August 10, 2024, or six months from the date the Navy denies a claim, and no North Carolina statute of repose or limitations would be apply.

Are There Exemptions To Federal Tort Claims That Could Apply Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

No. The Act disallows exemptions that could conceivably apply to federal tort claims. While the Federal Tort Claims Act is inapplicable under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, Congress wanted to make it clear that exceptions would not apply. By way of explanation, the Federal Tort Claims Act has exceptions that disallow certain tort claims, including, among others, claims where a federal government employee exercises due care in executing a statute or regulation, or conducts a discretionary function. The exception is under 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). The Camp Lejeune Justice Act specifies that these exceptions do not apply to lawsuits filed under its provisions. In other words, the federal government may not use these exceptions as a shield in the lawsuit.

What Damages Does The Camp Lejeune Justice Make Available To Victims?

Except for punitive damages, which are not permitted under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, other categories of damages are available. The broad category of damages that may be awarded is termed compensatory damages, because they compensate the victim, i.e., the plaintiff (versus punish the harm doer, i.e., the defendant).   

Compensatory damages include direct damages, which are directly caused by the plaintiff’s wrongdoing, which here is the U.S. government. Compensatory damages also include indirect or consequential damages, which are not directly caused by the plaintiff’s wrongdoing, but instead indirectly arise because of it.

Compensatory damages are categorized as either special, or quantifiable damages, or as general, or not easily quantifiable damages. Examples of special damages experienced by Camp Lejeune victims are: past, present and prospective medical bills for any reason dealing with the injury, such as for medication, chemotherapy, radiation, physical therapy and surgery; nursing and home-care costs for incapacitation; child care costs for inability to care for children; lost wages due to missed work during treatment and recovery; funeral costs in the event of patient death; transportation costs associated with health-related travel.

General damages, on the other hand, seek to provide financial compensation for the plaintiff’s quality and enjoyment of life. They are not necessarily easily quantifiable, and typically include dealing with physical, mental, social and emotional harm. Examples of general damages are: pain and suffering; mental anguish, such as depression, and anxiety; physical disfigurement and scarring; loss of future earning capacity; and loss of consortium from a loved one’s death or incapacity, meaning the plaintiff is deprived of a family relationship, including affection and sexual relations.

Are Punitive Damages Available Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Of 2022?

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 does not permit awards of punitive damages.

What are such damages? Punitive damages are available for torts, including for injuries caused. Unlike compensatory damages, they are not awarded for the actual harm that was suffered by the plaintiff in a civil case. Instead, they are awarded to punish the defendant, and hence the derivation of the name. But punitive damages are also used to deter the behavior from happening again. There need not be equal treatment of defendants for punitive type damages; for instance, it is permissible that a wealthy defendant is required to pay higher punitive damages than an indigent one. These damages are also not fixed in amount by applicable law, and are subject to considerable judicial discretion. The judge or jury may choose whether to award these punitive damages, and at amount of their choosing. However, trial judges may reduce (or “remit”) the amount of punitive damages if they think the award is excessive, and appellate courts often reduce the amount on appeal.

Is There A Cap On The Damages That A Victim May Receive Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

No. While the Act disallows punitive damages, it has not set any cap on the compensatory damages that a victim plaintiff may receive.

However, an offset for any amounts already received may apply. As with any other tort claims, the damages awarded will be offset by, meaning reduced by, what the victim or his/her legal representative has already received relating to the water contamination harm. To be specific, under  the Act, the offset will be for the amount of any disability award, payment, or benefit provided under any program administered by Veterans Affairs (VA), Medicare, Medicaid, or other health care or disability relating to exposure to water at Camp Lejeune.

Will Your VA Benefits, Medicare And Medicaid Benefits Or Other Health Insurance Benefits Be Impacted If You File A Claim Or Lawsuit Under The Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

No. The Act will not in any way impact any benefits or awards individuals receive from Veterans Affairs (VA), Medicare, Medicaid, or any other health care or disability care. The only impact is that if, and only if, an individual receives damages in a lawsuit or settlement under the Act, the benefits and awards already received will be used to reduce those damages dollar-for-dollar.