Eligible for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
Status Update on Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations Submitted to Judges
The four U.S. District Judges presiding over all Camp Lejeune lawsuits received an update from the parties this week about the status of ongoing settlement negotiations, as the U.S. government indicates that the combined demands submitted by more than 117,000 former Marines and military family members injured by toxic water on the base now reach into the trillions of dollars.
The claims are all being pursued under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year, opening a two-year window for lawsuits to be filed by anyone injured by contaminated water on the U.S. Marine Corps training base from the mid-1950s to the late 1980s.
The lawsuits involve 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
The legislation requires that each claimant submit a demand to the U.S. Department of Navy, and wait until the claim is denied or 180 days passes without a resolution before a Camp Lejeune lawsuit can be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, where four separate judges are working together to preside over the proceedings, including Judges Richard E. Myers II, Terrence W. Boyle, Louise W. Flanagan and James C. Dever III.
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.
Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations Status Update
To help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout large numbers of claims, the judges have established a Camp Lejeune bellwether process, which calls for the first cases to be ready to go before juries sometime next year. The parties will select 100 cases overall, spread evenly across claims involving the following categories of injuries:
- Bladder Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
In September, 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.
The parties submitted a status update (PDF) on the Camp Lejeune lawsuit settlement negotiations on October 26, in advance of a hearing held with the four judges on Monday.
According to the status update, the parties are currently working on a questionnaire for establishing data collection for the 100 “Track 1” cases, which is expected to help the parties place a value on the claims, though the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that it believes the Court will need to rule on certain pretrial motions before the potential settlement value of bellwether claims can be fully evaluated. It also may be necessary for a series of early test cases to go to trial, to gauge the average Camp Lejeune lawsuit award.
“The next step for the parties will be to determine the type of documentation that will be needed to answer, or prove, each data field,” the status report states. “For example, for the data field regarding duration on base, the parties will negotiate what type of documentation will be sufficient to establish a Plaintiff’s time on base.”
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 determine how juries will respond in future cases and facilitate settlement negotiations for different categories of injuries.
U.S. Government Calls for Cap on Camp Lejeune Plaintiff Fees
When the government put forth the elective Camp Lejeune elective settlement option, offering up to $550,000 to veterans and their families who suffered certain water contamination injuries while on the base, it capped the amount attorneys can collect from Camp Lejeune awards at 20% for claims resolved through the elective option, and 25% for those payouts that come after a lawsuit is filed against the federal government.
On October 27, the DOJ submitted a statement of interest (PDF) regarding the attorney fees to the four judges presiding over the litigation, after plaintiffs’ leadership proposed a 3% “holdback” fee to be deducted from any fees charged by individual plaintiffs’ attorneys. That fee will go toward a Common Benefit Fund, which will be used to compensate attorneys who have taken on extra duties and responsibilities in leadership positions.
In the filing , the government reiterated that all Camp Lejeune lawsuit attorney fees should be capped at 25% of the amount of any recovery, indicating that the U.S. government has an interested in ensuring that amounts paid to resolve claims end up benefiting individual claimants.
“The Department of Justice estimates that the total amount demanded for the approximately 117,000 administrative claims currently filed with the Department of Navy is nearly $3.3 trillion,” the government states. “The Court’s Common Benefit Order should balance the contributions of both common benefit work and non-common benefit work in light of the ultimate 25% fee cap on recoveries.”
Earlier this month, the Court required the parties to submit a update on Camp Lejeune settlement negotiations in advance of each status conference, which will be held on the first and third Tuesday of every month after the initial conference that was held on October 30. In addition to Camp Lejeune settlement negotiations, the hearing was set to cover the status of stipulations, discovery, and future conferences. The next meeting will be held on November 7, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jones.
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