Eligible for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
Lawyers Push for Camp Lejeune Water Lawsuits To Be Decided By Juries, Not Judges
Attorneys representing plaintiffs in Camp Lejeune water lawsuits indicate the federal government is trying to illegally prevent cases from going before juries, and are urging federal judges presiding over the litigation to reject such efforts.
The U.S. government faces about 130,000 claims by military veterans, their families, and others who developed various types of cancer and other ailments following exposure to toxic chemicals in the water at the North Carolina Marine training base between the mid-1950s and late 1980s.
Each of the claims are being pursued under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) of 2022, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year, opening a two-year window for lawsuits to be brought by anyone injured by contaminated water at the base, after the Navy previously denied claims for decades due to the North Carolina statute of limitations, which had already expired by the time the problems were discovered.
The litigation includes claims for dozens of different injuries that were allegedly caused by toxic chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune, including various types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, fertility problems and other injuries, and it is widely expected that the litigation will become one of the largest mass torts in U.S. history by the time the filing window closes in August 2024.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit
While the U.S. government has offered an elective Camp Lejeune settlement option, providing guaranteed tiers of compensation for veterans and their families if they suffered certain medical conditions, such as kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease and systemic sclerosis, many claimants will not qualify for this settlement offer or intend to pursue additional compensation through the U.S. court system.
The legislation requires that all Camp Lejeune lawsuits be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, where four separate judges are working together to coordinate and manage the proceedings, including Judges Richard E. Myers II, Terrence W. Boyle, Louise W. Flanagan and James C. Dever III.
Government Seeks to Avoid Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Jury Trials
Last month, the U.S. government filed a motion to strike jury trial demands (PDF) brought by plaintiffs, claiming that the CJLA only provides for “appropriate relief” for injured individuals, which it maintains should not include a jury trial against the United States.
The government argues that since the law does not specifically permit jury trials, each claim should be decided by through a bench trial before a federal judge.
In response, plaintiffs filed an opposition (PDF) on Monday, urging the Corut to reject the government’s motion, since all parties, including the government and Congress, have acknowledged Camp Lejeune water lawsuit plaintiffs have the right to a jury trial.
“Enacted last year to provide relief to long-suffering victims of Camp Lejeune’s toxic water after decades of deception by government officials, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act expressly recognizes ‘the right of any party to a trial by jury.’ The government nevertheless has submitted a motion to strike every plaintiff’s jury demand on the ground that the statute does not authorize jury trials,” plaintiffs wrote. “The government’s motion misinterprets Supreme Court precedent and would require the Court to effectively excuse an entire sentence from the CLJA. It should be denied.”
Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations
The dispute comes as the U.S. government and Camp Lejeune lawyers continue negotiate parameters for settlements that could resolve large numbers of claims.
Earlier this year, the judges presiding over the litigation called for the parties to meet and confer on a process for reaching a global resolution to resolve Camp Lejeune lawsuit claims, which would prevent the federal court system from being overloaded with potentially tens of thousands of expensive and time-consuming trials.
According to a status report submitted last month, the U.S. Department of Navy had only been able to determine that 10 of the pending Camp Lejeune claims meet the criteria for the government’s elective settlement option. Eight of those claimants accepted the option and those settlements are pending. Two others refused the government’s settlement offer.
In the meantime, the parties continue to work toward the selection of potential bellwether cases, which will be scheduled to gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses of evidence that will be presented throughout tens of thousands of claims.
The parties are working on selecting 100 cases overall to form the initial bellwether pool, spread evenly across claims involving the following categories of injuries:
- Bladder Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
While the outcome of the early Camp Lejeune bellwether trials will not have a binding impact on other claims, the amount of any lawsuit payouts awarded may help the parties in those negotiations, by demonstrating how juries or judges will respond in future cases to various types of injuries.
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