Those who lived in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 could have been exposed to carcinogens through contaminated water. Toxic carcinogens leaked into the local water supply of the base, contaminating the water people used for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Those affected by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune have suffered adverse health conditions, such as bladder cancer, leukemia, liver cancer, etc.
For a long time, Camp Lejeune toxic water victims were not allowed to file claims pursuing compensation for damages because they found out about the toxic water after the statute of limitations ran out. President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act to allow victims to pursue compensation through administrative claims. However, a North Carolina rule disallows out-of-state lawyers to take on more than three unrelated cases each year, threatening to end bids for compensation for hundreds of thousands of Camp Lejeune toxic water victims.
Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune Caused Cancer and Other Adverse Health Conditions
Camp Lejeune is a marine base in North Carolina that prepares Marines for combat situations. Between 1953 and 1987, the water used for drinking, bathing, and cooking became contaminated by carcinogens such as tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene.
A dry-cleaning business near Camp Lejeune improperly dumped wastewater with chemicals into drains that contaminated groundwater used by the Terrawa Terrace Facility. The Hadnot Point Treatment Plant Facility had its groundwater supply contaminated by a local fuel farm that dumped tens of thousands of gallons of oil. Each of these stations had wells that collected the contaminated groundwater and pumped it into a water-treatment plant, giving toxic water to people living at Camp Lejeune.
The following are some of the cancers and adverse health conditions caused by toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune:
- Organ damage
- Central nervous system damage
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Renal disease
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Congenital disabilities
- Liver cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Breast cancer
- Female infertility
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Allowed Toxic Water Victims to File Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
People living at Camp Lejeune who suffered adverse health conditions did not find out about the water contamination that caused their medical conditions until much later. It had been difficult to pursue compensation because of North Carolina’s statute of repose, which did not allow personal injury victims to seek compensation for damages after ten years had elapsed since the accident. Since Camp Lejeune toxic water victims did not find out about the water contamination for decades, they were not allowed to file claims to pursue compensation for damages.
That changed in August 2022 when President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act into law. It allowed people who were stationed, lived, or were in utero at Camp Lejeune between August 31st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987 to file an administrative claim until August 10th, 2024 with the Judge Advocate General for the Department of the Navy. This would allow them to pursue compensation for damages caused by toxic water contamination, such as medical bills, lost earning potential, and pain and suffering.
What North Carolina Law Threatens the Future of Camp Lejeune Litigation?
Camp Lejeune toxic water victims have had a hard time recovering compensation, due to the complicated process of collecting decades-old evidence to prove their medical condition stemmed from toxic water at the Marine base. Victims of Camp Lejeune contaminated water have been left to wait for the resolution of their claims while new rules have come to light that can hurt their lawyers’ ability to help them litigate their claims.
North Carolina has a rule that prevents out-of-state lawyers from representing more than three clients in unrelated cases. This rule came to light when Judge Terrence Boyle questioned why lawyers at the firm Keller Postman should be allowed to represent so many Camp Lejeune toxic water plaintiffs. These plaintiffs filed early claims, as their previous attempts to pursue compensation met the Camp Lejeune Justice Act’s requirement to go through an administrative process.
The lawyers at Keller Postman argued that these Camp Lejeune cases are related, so they should not be subject to the rule. They also argued that should the cases not be deemed related, they should be exempt from the rule because of “good cause.” Many Camp Lejeune plaintiffs are elderly and no longer live in North Carolina. Finding new legal representation would place a heavy burden on them and further complicate the process for victims who have waited decades for their day in court. Judge Boyle eventually dismissed these early claims, forcing the plaintiffs to go through the Navy process established by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Experienced Lawyers Believe They Should Be Allowed to Represent Their Clients
This obscure rule has caught the eye of Edward Bell, a South Carolina lawyer who has represented hundreds of Camp Lejeune toxic water victims and helped draft the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Edward Bell’s law firm argued that Camp Lejeune toxic water plaintiffs should be allowed to receive legal counsel from experienced out-of-state that can best help them with their case.
Since the rule first came to light regarding the Keller Postman lawyers, many advertisements have come out enticing Camp Lejeune plaintiffs to turn to lawyers without environmental case experience. Eric Flynn, a lawyer at Bell Legal Group, believes experienced out-of-state lawyers should be given a “good cause” exception. "This structure can ensure that not only are clients receiving the best legal representation but that the culture of the district is respected and is not polluted by those seeking to turn this case into the next ‘mass tort’ and move on when done,” Eric Flynn wrote.
Courts Will Have to Make a Ruling on Out-of-State Representation for Camp Lejeune Victims
North Carolina courts will have to decide whether to allow experienced out-of-state attorneys to represent Camp Lejeune plaintiffs. Ethics come into play, as outlined by Michael Frisch of the ethics counsel at Georgetown University Law Center. He suggests ruling in favor of this obscure rule could risk courts being seen as going against the client’s best interests.
However, legal profession rules state that just because a lawyer does not have experience in a certain type of lawsuit does not mean they cannot provide adequate legal counsel. Issues can arise if lawyers who have invested in mass advertising on Camp Lejeune cases offer support but end up passing off the legal work to a third party.
The Solution to the Problems Presented by the Obscure North Carolina Rule
Mona Lisa Wallace, a North Carolina lawyer serving as counsel to out-of-state lawyers, has filed a brief urging the court to make exceptions regarding the appearance rule on a case-by-case basis. She understands the complicated nature of these cases and the urgency to provide financial relief to clients who have struggled with adverse health conditions for decades.
As out-of-state lawyers wait for the court's decision on their representation of Camp Lejeune clients, they weigh their other options for a solution to this problem. One solution that could be available is for out-of-state lawyers to pass the North Carolina State Bar exam to ensure they can represent their clients. This may end up being necessary, as North Carolina may need more lawyers to handle over 500,000 cases that could be filed to pursue compensation for Camp Lejeune toxic water damages.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With your Camp Lejeune Lawsuit
Dolman Law Group is a personal injury law firm that specializes in assisting injured plaintiffs with maximizing the value of their claims. Filing a Camp Lejeune lawsuit can help those harmed by contaminated water with compensated related damages like medical bills, lost wages, lost earning potential, and even mental anguish.
The Camp Lejeune Lawyers of Dolman Law Group offer free consultations to those who have been harmed by the contaminated water at camp Lejeune. Consider contacting our firm about your case to learn what legal options you may have and what our lawyers can do for you.