Camp Lejeune Lawyer Answers: Why Do I Need A Lawyer to File a Lawsuit?

January 25, 2024 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

Water is a universal solvent—able to dissolve more substances than any other liquid on earth and highly vulnerable to pollution. The fact is— contaminated water kills. An egregious, widespread drinking-water contamination on government property that began in 1953 and went undetected for almost three decades has potentially exposed nearly one million residents in North Carolina to toxic chemicals.

The facts of the matter are more than disturbing. Since the discovery of the illness causing pollution (in 1982), those affected physically, financially, and emotionally remain unable to seek compensation for this egregious situation.

With politics put aside, bipartisan support culminated in recent legislation (August 10, 2022), allowing whole, fair, and long-awaited justice. When President Joe Biden signed the PACT (honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins) law, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act went into effect immediately.

This vital legislation allows military veterans and civilians harmed by contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to file lawsuits against the federal government. Now, the quest for just compensation has an end in sight.

So, why does a potential victim need a Camp Lejeune lawyer? The window of opportunity for filing a claim is now open, but it will not be indefinitely. Those persons wishing to pursue a claim will have until August 10, 2024, to file. There are specific and strict requirements for eligibility, and even those illnesses known to stem from water toxicity must be linked back to Camp Lejeune. A water toxicity lawsuit is a complex legal matter with claimants nationwide.

Families facing the repercussions of exposure to toxic chemicals in their drinking water will be best served through representation by a legal team with the resolve and resources necessary to tackle this unprecedented issue. There is much to lose and little to gain in handling the details and mandates of a water contamination suit without legal guidance. Having a qualified attorney can help protect a claimant's rights to seek compensation.

Lawsuit Eligibility and Requirements

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 limits eligibility for individuals with potential exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to:

  • Veterans, family members, and others who lived or worked on or near Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station New River for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and
  • Have injuries or illnesses due to exposure to or ingestion of contaminated water

Additionally, this legislation allows a person's legal representative to file a claim on behalf of their deceased family member. There is no legal requirement that their direct exposure caused the death. Claimants must establish that their illness or injuries link to Camp Lejeune's contaminated water. Complete medical records will be critical in establishing a connection and testimony from a medical expert.

Further requirements include:

  • The victim must file a claim within two years from August 10, 2022 (the date the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was signed into law)
  • Each victim must file an individual claim
  • The lawsuit will be filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina United States District Court

Although a claimant can file without legal representation, a toxic-exposure lawsuit's administrative and judicial processes are complicated. An experienced attorney can help ensure a victim's legal rights are protected.

The Process At This Point Is Speculative

At this point, there is no frame of reference for a situation like this, and there is much uncertainty surrounding filing a lawsuit related to the Lejeune Justice Act. The road to compensation is formidable—involving specific documents and precise formats. Before a lawsuit can be filed. the Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) requires the submission of an administrative claim.

This form requires you to provide:

  • The details of the claimant's residence near Camp Lejeune
  • Details about the injury
  • The extent of the injury
  • The medical treatment required
  • The impact of the injury
  • The dollar amount of compensation requested

The legal community is expecting a deluge of initial water contamination claims. At this point, one can assume these claims will be grouped together, possibly by illnesses, to facilitate expediency of review and movement through the legal system. It is possible to see ongoing changes and requirements as the government delves into the review and evaluation process. An experienced attorney can make a difference for those families seeking compensation. An experienced lawyer understands each case is unique.

Some of the Toxins Found in The Drinking Water in Camp Lejeune

The chemicals causing the contamination are called Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Two main VOCs were initially found as the culprit in Camp Lejeune's water supply—a dry cleaning solvent and a degreaser. Later investigative studies indicate more than 70 other chemicals in the water caused health risks.

Routine water testing in 1982 found that drinking water sources at Camp Lejeune were contaminated with harmful toxins known to be carcinogenic.

Some of the toxins discovered in the water supply include:

  • Benzene
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Vinyl chloride

Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor known to cause leukemia and other cancers of blood cells. Perchloroethylene (PCE) is an industrial chemical used for several different commercial applications such as dry-cleaning fabrics and degreasing metal machinery., Exposure can harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive system and is known to possibly harm unborn children.

Those exposed over an extended period can have a higher than average risk of developing some types of cancer. To illustrate the scope of this problem —for 346 months( from November 1957 to February 1987), the PCE concentrations in the water greatly exceeded the EPA's allowable five parts per billion.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a known carcinogen used primarily to make refrigerants and other hydrofluorocarbons. Excessive exposure can cause liver damage. Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas produced industrially and used to make various plastic products. Exposure to vinyl chloride is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer (hepatic angiosarcoma), brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.

The two primary water treatment plants, The Tarawa Terrace Facility and the Hadnot Point Facility are responsible for water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Tarawa opened in 1952, and research later illustrated the system was contaminated with an industrial solvent known as PCE (perchloroethylene).

PCE is a known carcinogen often utilized in the process of dry cleaning. In retrospect, it became apparent this chemical was present in the water supply in 1953. Coincidentally, the same year a dry cleaning establishment opened near the base. In the 346 months, from November 1957 to February 1987, the PCE concentrations exceeded the allowable five parts per billion.

The Financial Recovery Process

The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that up to 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the contaminated water. In 2017, the government began providing disability benefits to veterans exposed to tainted drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune.

“Camp Lejeune is by far the largest and worst case of drinking water contamination in the history of the United States,” said Jerry Ensminger, co-founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, an advocacy group focused on contamination at Camp Lejeune. “That is in both the number of people exposed and the levels of the contaminants that were found in the water. Somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million were exposed.”

Most of us consume one to two liters of water every day, so authorities must vigilant about the safety of the drinking water they provide us. Every glass we drink impacts every part of our bodies. Water regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, protects vital organs and tissue, and carries nutrients to every cell.

For some, preventable illnesses are likely when the water is contaminated with harmful toxins over time.

Although life-threatening and debilitating diseases stemming from toxic chemicals in  drinking water do not become immediately apparent, consumers may initially experience:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Intestinal cramps
  • Stomach pains

The water contamination at Camp Lejeune was caused, for the most part,  by spills or leaks from underground storage tanks, waste disposal sites, and businesses. Subsequently, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) were found in the water serving the base housing and neighboring areas. Disturbingly, since 1953 the volatile organic compounds in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune and the surrounding community have been excessive.

For years, unknowing military personnel, their family members, and civilians living on or near the base drank, bathed, and cooked with water tainted with (among other things) tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and benzene.

The impact of this unacceptable situation is staggering. Reportedly, between 1953 and 1987, at least 900,000 military personnel and their family members stationed at the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were exposed to over 3,000 times the safe limits of toxic chemicals in their drinking water.

The Marine Corps discovered the contamination in 1982, and the most contaminated wells were shut down in 1985. The scope of the problem made this a time-consuming project, and the water was not wholly safe was not until the end of 1987. It took 17 years from the time of the discovery of toxic chemicals in the water supply before the government began notifying potential victims.

An Experienced Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Lawyer Is The Best Defense

In any personal injury case, a claimant's best chance for a full and fair recovery is having an experienced attorney working on their behalf. The battle with the government concerning the Camp Lejeune water contamination issue is no exception. This is not just a battle of wits against an insurance company—it is a matter of going one-on-one against the United States government. The requirements are many, and the government is making the rules.

Take, for example, the issue of medical records. Documentation of illnesses and treatment are vital pieces of evidence in a case like this one. The length of time a doctor or healthcare facility is legally required to retain medical records is state-specific. For the most part, ranging from five to ten years.

The contamination began decades ago, the claimants are potentially scattered throughout the country, and some being career military may have medical records in multiple states. Getting a handle on these documents is more likely than not a task for a layperson. For those interested in knowing the state laws, here is a link to an interactive website that can give the user some basic information on medical records retention.

In addition to medical records showing a presumptive condition, claimants wishing to file a Camp Lejeune Act claim should expect to be able to produce their military service records, birth certificates, and military housing records. To show exposure to toxic materials, having access to work duty records and pregnancy records is essential for maternal exposure claims. These are just some things a personal injury attorney can help with.

The best way to facilitate the claims process in a Camp Lejeune toxic water case is by hiring a personal injury attorney. A personal injury attorney has the experience and resources to investigate, gather evidence, obtain expert testimony, and negotiate a fair settlement based on each client's unique case. An attorney can take the guesswork out of such a significant opportunity. Those reading this have waited a long time to seek justice. A lawyer can help you do it the best way possible.

Those families struggling with the consequences of an illness caused by the Camp Lejeune water contamination do not have to fight alone. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act allows all veterans, family members, local merchants, and civilian contractors to seek justice and receive total and fair compensation. Contact a personal injury law firm that offers a free case evaluation to discuss your potential Camp Lejeune lawsuit.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit? Some Frequently Asked Questions

The questions about the possibility of a financial recovery following toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune have been mounting for decades. This is a problem of broad proportions and one that deserves answers. This blog attempts to address a few of the most pressing issues.

What happened at Camp Lejeune?

For years, the drinking water supply at  Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corp Air Station at New River was contaminated with several dangerous and toxic chemicals. Civilian workers, residents, merchants, and service members and their families began experiencing severe and often fatal medical conditions.

Until the military finally admitted fault and assumed responsibility, health care benefits and other financial considerations were essentially not made available to those who suffered the consequences of the water contamination.

The government chose to deny more than 4,400 civil claims based on:

  • A North Carolina law that sets a strict timeline of 10 years for an injured party to file a civil claim for contamination
  • An exemption to the Federal Tort Claims Act, known as discretionary function protecting the government from negligence not definitively established
  • An established policy (The Feres doctrine) preventing military members from litigation against the government for injuries incurred during service

What is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act?

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is a comprehensive bipartisan piece of legislation overriding the North Carolina law that previously blocked legal action against the government and now allows veterans, family members, and civilian workers to file claims for compensation if they were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987. Many of those harmed by the toxic drinking water have seen their health conditions worsen due to the denial of previous claims.

Deny until they die”—some veterans say VA wrongly rejects claims for illnesses they blame on Camp Lejeune's contaminated water.

Who can file a claim?

Men, women, children, and unborn children who lived, worked, and were exposed to Camp Lejeune drinking water for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, who can connect their illness and/or injuries to the toxic water may file a claim. To phrase it in the words of the bill itself:

“An individual, including a veteran (as defined in section 101 of title 38, United States Code), or the legal representative of such an individual, who resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed (including in utero exposure) for not less than 30 days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953, and ending on December 31, 1987, to water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that was supplied by, or on behalf of, the United States may bring an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to obtain appropriate relief for harm that was caused by exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune.”— section 804: Federal Cause of Action Relating to Water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

I lived near Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.  What specific areas were served by the contaminated water sources?

In addition to the barracks and other on-base housing, the following areas were exposed to contaminated water:

  • Berkeley Manor
  • Hadnot Point
  • Hospital Point
  • Knox Trailer Park
  • Midway Park
  • Paradise Point
  • Tarawa Terrace
  • Watkins Village

What took so long for victims to begin filing for compensation?

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Case

North Carolina's ten-year statute of repose (similar to a statute of limitations) does not allow filing water contamination lawsuits more than ten years past.

Therefore, by the time the water contamination was discovered (in 1982), those living on or near the base in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s had no legal opportunity to seek compensation. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act overrides the North Carolina statute of repose.

How could a tragedy like this happen?

The residents, military personnel, family members, and civilians who resided on or near Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were exposed to the long-term chemical release of volatile organic compounds into the drinking water of their homes from 1957 until 1987. This is a tragedy decades in the making. The contamination resulted from leaking underground storage tanks, toxic spills, and industrial waste disposals. The delayed intervention is unacceptable. The subject is shrouded in perceived deception, and the “truth” is frequently clouded or distorted. The time has finally come for those affected and inflicted to pursue justice. What matters now is what can happen now.

What other types of illnesses have been linked to contaminated drinking water?

Cancers, birth defects, neurological disorders, and many other conditions have possible connections with the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Some of these include:

Cancers such as:

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Central nervous system cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rectal cancer

Birth defects and conditions related to exposure to contaminated water:

  • Low birth weight
  • Fetal death
  • Major malformations/disfigurement
  • Miscarriage
  • Neural tube defects
  • Oral cleft defects

Additional injuries and illnesses:

  • Aplastic anemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Impaired immune system
  • Neurological disorders
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Parkinson disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Female infertility

Can family members sue on behalf of deceased loved ones?

The answer to this question is yes. A qualified representative (parent, spouse, child, sibling) can file the claim. A personal injury attorney with experience in premises liability and wrongful death claims will be able to assist these family members with the claims filing process.

Illnesses from chemical toxicity in drinking water can take decades to present themselves.  Is there a test that can prove I am affected?

Volatile organic compounds(VOCs) leave the body within a week after the last exposure. Testing will not determine whether you were exposed to these chemicals at Camp Lejeune.

Will everybody exposed to the toxic water become sick?

Not every person will experience an illness related to the water contaminants of trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, benzene, and other volatile organic compounds found at Camp Lejeune.

Whether or not a health problem is likely to develop can depend on:

  • The age of the person at the time of exposure
  • The specific chemicals involved
  • The dates of exposure
  • The length of exposure
  • The individual's genetic makeup
  • The individual's lifestyle choices  at the time of exposure and during their lifetime
  • Any other environmental or occupational exposures
  • Any other illnesses during the claimant's lifetime
  • Any medications taken during the claimant's lifetime

What types of financial compensation are available now that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is law?

Every case is different—and each applicant (or family representative) will have a unique story.

After years of futile attempts to hold the government responsible and accountable, a skilled lawyer will help place a monetary value on damages, such as:

  • Past and future medical expenses that may include hospital charges, rehabilitation costs, medications, home modifications, and in-home care
  • Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
  • Permanent disability or impairment
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Financial support due to the death of a family member

How is this lawsuit different from military disability benefits?

Following the Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided health care benefits to veterans and their family members stationed at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 who suffer from any of these 15 health conditions:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Miscarriage
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma

Additionally, monthly disability payments have been awarded to some veterans with specific qualified ailments. New legislation now allows all those who lived or worked on or near Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station New River for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and have injuries or illnesses due to exposure to or ingestion of contaminated water to seek compensation.

The officials at the Veterans' Affairs claim there will be no penalty, such as denying pending claims, to those who choose also to file a lawsuit. However, the the dollar amount of benefits already provided due to toxic water exposure will offset the financial recovery obtained through a lawsuit.

If I file a claim, is there a guarantee of financial compensation?

There are no guarantees. Once eligibility is established, and the claimed injury or illness details are evaluated, a claim is filed. The new legislation allows claimants to pursue legal action against the U.S. Government just like any other personal injury claim.

For the most part, a lawsuit is expected to result in a financial payout by settlement or jury verdict. If your lawyer can negotiate a fair settlement, once accepted, that guarantees funds without waiting for and going through a trial. If the claim does proceed to court, a judge and jury will decide the amount of compensation.

What can I expect in terms of amounts of settlements and the time frame involved?

There is no actual frame of reference for a situation like this, and we would not like to mislead you by hazarding a guess

Is there a Camp Lejeune class action suit?

As of this writing, there is no class action suit. Due to the expected volume of potential claims, cases with similar characteristics may be grouped together.

What can a Class Action Lawyer do to help?

Unfortunately, although expectedly, filing a Camp Lejeune toxic water claim is not an easy process. Law firms across the country are anticipating an unprecedented number of inquiries concerning eligibility and possible compensation. The right attorney will make a difference—choose one based on experience, reputation, and past performance.

Check out the attorney's website and review the biographies, client testimonials, professional awards, and accolades. Search for legal representation with the staffing, expertise, and financial resources to take on the federal government.

Several conditions are already presumed to be caused by the contaminants. However, many others will require further medical proof.

An experienced Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Lawyer can leverage their current relationship with medical experts to help determine whether or not the illness may be correctly linked to the contaminants and therefore qualify you for compensation.

Personal Injury Lawyer
Matt Dolman, Camp Lejeune Attorney

A lawyer can:

  • Collect evidence, such as medical documents, and proof of residency
  • Complete and file the initial claim correctly and on time
  • Help research scientific evidence linking a particular illness to the contaminated water
  • Help place a monetary value on your claim for compensation
  • Meet with claimants to develop a thorough understanding of how the exposure affects their life
  • File a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina if a settlement cannot be reached

More than one million military personnel and their family members were stationed at the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987. Countless others lived and worked on and around the facility.

If you suspect you or a family member suffers from an illness associated with the contaminated water found at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, contact a personal injury attorney today. You have many options as you prepare to proceed with long-overdue justice. The right Camp Lejeune attorney would offer a free consultation and case review and is here to help.


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