Eligible for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
Judges To Determine Amount of Damages in Camp Lejeune Injury Lawsuits, Not Juries
The four U.S. District Judges presiding over all Camp Lejeune injury lawsuits have rejected a requests filed by plaintiffs lawyers, which called for juries to determine the amount of damages each individual will receive at trial. Instead, each claim that does not settle will go before a judge, with the first trials expected to begin this year.
The U.S. government faces about 130,000 claims submitted 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.
Judges to Determine Camp Lejeune Injury Lawsuit Payouts
After plaintiffs submitted a master complaint that included a request for Camp Lejeune lawsuit jury trials, the U.S. government filed a motion in November 2023, indicating that individual jury trials should not be held to determine the value of each claim. The government argued that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act does not specifically provide plaintiffs with a right to a jury, and that the claims should be decided by a judge during a bench trial.
In an order (PDF) issued on February 6, the judges agreed with the U.S. government, and determined that plaintiffs will not be entitled to jury trials.
“(T)he Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 does not unequivocally, affirmatively, and unambiguously provide plaintiffs the right to a jury trial in actions seeking relief under subsection 804(b) of the CLJA,” the order states. “Moreover, in the CLJA, Congress did not clearly and unequivocally depart from its usual practice of not permitting a jury trial against the United States. Thus, the court grants defendant’s motion to strike the jury trial demand in plaintiffs’ master complaint.”
The ruling means that the Camp Lejeune injury trials will be heard and decided by a judge instead of a jury, which government attorneys claim will speed up the resolution of the outstanding claims.
Camp Lejeune Lawsuits Expected to Begin in 2024
The order came just days after the judges issued an order (PDF) laying out the discovery schedule for the first batch of cases that are going through case-specific discovery in preparation for a series of early bellwether trials, indicating that the parties should be prepared to commence the first cases in 2024.
Track 1 discovery plaintiffs have 45 days from February 2, the date the order was issued, to submit a complete Discovery Pool Profile Form. The judges are seeking for discovery to be completed on the cases within 135 days.
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 judges are likely to respond in future cases to various types of injuries.
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