What Caused Water Contamination At Camp Lejeune? Can I File A Lawsuit In South Carolina?
Answered by: John S. SimmonsSimmons Law Firm, LLC Phone: 803-779-4600
For over three decades, service members, their families, civilians and others living and working on base were tragically exposed to harmful chemicals at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Toxic substances were found in the water system serving homes, barracks, schools, offices and the base hospital. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR) traced the contamination to toxins leaked from an off-base dry cleaning business, as well as leaking underground wells, industrial spills and waste disposal sites.
The chemicals included benzene, vinyl chloride, perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Marines, reservists, family members and civilians were exposed to the contaminated water from 1953 to 1987. Tens of thousands of people have died, and hundreds of thousands may still suffer from medical conditions and illnesses, including cancer, neurological disorders and congenital disabilities.
Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, those who meet the law’s requirements, including many here in South Carolina, can now file a lawsuit. As many as half a million cases are expected to be filed, making it potentially the largest civil case in U.S. history. Just one month after the Act was signed into law, over 5,000 administrative claims were filed.
Requirements For Filing A Lawsuit
The Justice Act, signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022, created a $6 billion fund to compensate Camp Lejeune water contamination victims. To be eligible to file a lawsuit, you must meet the following standards:
- You were exposed to the contaminated water for 30 days or more between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The days do not have to be consecutive.
- You can prove that you lived or worked at the base and were exposed to hazardous chemicals during that timeframe through service, residency or work/school records.
- You have medical records containing a diagnosis of a presumptive or non-presumptive illness or disorder associated with the contamination.
Because the Act contains certain deadlines to file your claim, it’s advisable to contact an attorney as soon as possible if you believe you meet these requirements.
Conditions That Qualify For Claims Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recognized so-called “presumptive” conditions linked to the contamination. “Presumptive” means the VA presumes the contamination caused certain diagnosed health conditions. The current list includes:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Adult leukemia
However, many people who worked or lived on base or visited for at least 30 days suffer from various other illnesses and disorders not included on the presumptive list. These individuals are not excluded from filing a lawsuit. Other serious conditions, including several types of cancers, congenital disabilities and neurological disorders, may also have been caused by the contamination. These include:
- Breast cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Fetal death
- Cardiac defects
- Brain damage
- Hodgkin lymphoma
If the contamination caused your illness or you lost a loved one who spent time at Camp Lejeune, you may be eligible to file a claim. It’s advisable to contact an attorney and gather information, such as medical history and proof that you were at the base during the specified period.
How To File A Claim
The first step under the Justice Act is filing an administrative claim with the judge advocate general (JAG) of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, Virginia. If the TCU denies the claim or doesn’t respond within a certain time period, those exposed to the contaminated water can file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. All cases are currently handled as individual claims, and this is not a class action lawsuit. Victims are eligible for compensation for economic and noneconomic damages, including:
- Medical bills
- Lost earnings and earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship, enjoyment of life and consortium
Why Should I Consider A Lawsuit?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that as many as 1 million people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Premature deaths and chronic medical illnesses and conditions related to ingesting toxic chemicals have sadly caused untold hardship and impacted the lives of thousands of families, including many in South Carolina.
Some people who qualify to file a lawsuit may worry that they cannot afford to pay a lawyer to seek justice. However, attorneys at the Simmons Law Firm are only paid if we obtain a successful result on your behalf. If you believe you meet the requirements outlined in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, it’s advisable to schedule a free consultation with the experienced lawyers of Simmons Law Firm so we can assess your case and answer any questions you may have.
Because the Act contains certain deadlines to file a claim, it is important to take steps to protect your rights as soon as possible. For over 30 years, I have helped South Carolinians receive just and fair compensation in personal injury cases while holding those responsible accountable. As the former United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina, I dedicated myself to the pursuit of justice for all South Carolinians.
The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.
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