How Much Is Your Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Worth?

A look at the legal basis for Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits and the concept of "damages."

By , Attorney

Camp Lejeune (luh-jern) is a large military base near Jackson, North Carolina. For over 80 years, the base has been home to retired and active service members, civilian employees, and their families. Camp Lejeune's primary purpose is to train Marines and sailors for combat missions around the world.

Camp Lejeune is also the site of one of the worst water contamination disasters in U.S. history. From the 1950s through at least 1987, as many as one million people may have drank, bathed, and cooked with contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Scientists have linked the chemicals found in the water at Lejeune with the development of cancer and other medical conditions.

Now, thanks to the long-awaited passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in August 2022, Camp Lejeune victims have a two-year window to sue the federal government for losses (called "damages") related to illnesses and injuries caused by the toxic water.

You might have a Camp Lejeune personal injury claim if you:

  • lived, worked, or were otherwise exposed (including in utero exposure) to water at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from August 1953 through December 1987, and
  • suffered harm caused by the contaminated water.

Learn more about Camp Lejeune water contamination claims and find out how much compensation you can expect to get from a Camp Lejeune lawsuit.

Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

For nearly 34 years, people living and working at Camp Lejeune were exposed to contaminated water. Significant sources of contamination were an off-base drying cleaning business and waste storage and disposal sites on the base.

Military chemists began testing the water at Lejeune in the early 1980s and found levels of harmful chemicals that were up to 280 times what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe today. Most of the contaminated wells were shut down by 1985. In 1989, Camp Lejeune was placed on the EPA's Superfund program's National Priorities List where it remains today.

The Link Between Contaminated Water and Diseases

In 1999, many former residents of Camp Lejeune first learned about the negative health effects associated with the toxic water at Lejeune when they received a questionnaire from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). ATSDR is a federal agency that studies polluted Superfund sites, like Lejeune.

Over the years, ATSDR and other scientific studies have identified a strong link between the chemicals detected in the water at Lejeune with a variety of conditions, including:

  • kidney cancer
  • non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • cardiac defects
  • bladder cancer
  • leukemias
  • liver cancer
  • multiple myeloma
  • end-stage renal disease
  • Parkinson's disease, and
  • scleroderma.

Exposure to contaminated water at Lejeune has also been associated with aplastic anemia, infertility, miscarriage, oral cleft defects (including cleft lip), breast cancer, and many other painful and lasting health conditions. Click here for ATSDR's findings.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuits

For decades, people harmed by the toxic water at Camp Lejeune fought to have their day in court and receive financial compensation for their suffering. But time and time again they were denied for technical reasons having nothing to do with the merits of their claims.

That changed on August 10, 2022, when President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) into law. The law, which is part of the PACT Act, gives veterans and others impacted by toxic water at Lejeune the right to sue the U.S. government.

Who Is Eligible to File a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?

Under the new law, anyone who lived, worked, or was otherwise exposed to Camp Lejeune water for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, may be eligible to file a lawsuit. When calculating the 30-day requirement, consider the total number of days you spent at Camp Lejeune. The 30 days don't have to be consecutive.

If the person exposed to the water has died or is incapacitated, a legal representative—typically a parent, child, spouse, or sibling—can file a lawsuit on their behalf.

How to File a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit

Before you can file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit, you have to file an administrative claim with the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy's Tort Claims Unit (TCU). At a minimum, you'll have to provide your contact information, lay out your connection to Camp Lejeune, describe your injury, and clearly state how much money you want to settle your claim. You should talk to a lawyer before you submit your administrative claim. A lawyer can help you figure out how much your claim is worth. Don't make the mistake of asking for less than the full value of your claim.

After your administrative claim is correctly filed, the TCU has six months to either accept or deny your claim. You could reach a settlement with the government at this point. But if your claim is denied, you can file your lawsuit in in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Some lawyers are predicting that a large number of Camp Lejeune victims will get reasonable settlement offers during the administrative claim process. After all, the purpose of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is to get people harmed by contaminated water the compensation they deserve. The Congressional Budget Office projects spending $6.1 billion to compensate Camp Lejeune victims.

What You Will Have to Prove

Exposure to toxic water isn't enough to get a settlement or court award. You'll also have to show that the exposure caused you harm.

First, you or your lawyer will have to track down records to prove that you were at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. These records might include some or all of the following:

  • military service records
  • Social Security work history records
  • medical records
  • housing records, and
  • school records.

Then you'll have to prove that it's "at least as likely as not" that your exposure to contaminated water on the base caused you harm. Proving causation is often the most challenging part of a toxic tort claim.

People suing (called "plaintiffs") over harmful substances like pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, or contaminated water, typically have to rely on experts to show that the health effects they are experiencing were caused by exposure to the substances.

Camp Lejeune plaintiffs and their experts can rely on ATSDR studies and Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations to help show a link between the harms they've suffered and chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune.

Lawsuit Filing Deadlines

You have a limited time to file your Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit. Don't delay. The CLJA imposes a strict deadline (called a "statute of limitations") for Camp Lejeune victims (or their surviving relatives) to bring claims.

You will not be able to file a lawsuit after August 10, 2024 (two years after the CLJA went into effect), or six months after your administrative claim is denied, whichever is later.

The statute of limitations only applies to claims arising before August 10, 2022. If you have any questions about how the CLJA statute of limitations applies to your claim, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.

"Damages" in a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit

As with any injury-related claim, figuring out the value of your Camp Lejeune claim starts with an understanding of "damages," which is the legal term for losses suffered by the plaintiff.

In a Camp Lejeune lawsuit, damages will be paid by the federal government. Whether you settle your case with the Navy's Tort Claims Unit (TCU) or you receive a verdict in your favor after trial, the money you receive is compensation for your damages.

The dollar amount of your contaminated water claim will depend on your individual experience and circumstances. But let's take a look at some common categories of damages, and get a ballpark estimate of how much your claim might be worth.

Cost of Past and Future Medical Care

Plaintiffs who win or settle their cases will get compensation for all exposure-related medical care.

Veterans and their family members have been able to apply for Camp Lejeune-related disability and health benefits since 2012. Be aware that CLJA settlements and court awards will offset (be deducted from) plaintiffs' existing VA, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits related to their conditions. As of September 2022, it's unclear exactly how an offset will be calculated. The national legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars expects the government to release regulations concerning offsets soon. Contact a lawyer, preferably a VA-certified Veterans Disability Lawyer, or an agent of a veterans service organization to find out how a CLJA lawsuit might affect your benefits and health care.

Lost Income and Diminished Earning Capacity

If your Camp Lejeune-related illness or injury prevent you from working you can ask for compensation for that financial harm in your damages claim.

Specifically, you're entitled to recover past and future lost income.

"Pain and Suffering" in a Toxic Water Case

It's fairly straightforward to add up your medical expenses and lost wages, but putting a dollar amount on the "pain and suffering" caused by a toxic water-related illness is more challenging.

How do you put a dollar figure on the pain a Marine air traffic controller experiences when he thinks about his eight-year-old daughter who died of leukemia in 1985 after spending her entire life on the base? How much compensation is enough for the suffering of a retired Marine living with Parkinson's disease?

Pain and suffering can include:

  • physical pain and discomfort resulting from your diagnosis and medical treatment for your condition
  • mental stress, worry, anxiety, grief, depression, fear, sleeplessness, and other psychological effects, and
  • loss of enjoyment of life (an inability to engage in certain activities because of your health problems caused by toxic water).

No Punitive Damages

Medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering are all categories of compensatory damages, meaning they are meant to compensate plaintiffs for their losses.

Punitive damages are different. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant (the federal government in Camp Lejeune cases) for misconduct. Punitive damages can't be awarded under the CLJA.

No Cap on Damages

But there is no damage cap on the amount you can recover for your injuries under North Carolina law, which controls CLJA claims. A jury can award you as much compensation as necessary to pay you for your actual costs (economic damages) and intangible suffering (non-economic damages) related to the harm caused by your toxic water exposure.

Learn more about how to calculate your personal injury settlement value.

Is There an Average Camp Lejeune Settlement?

The day after the CLJA went into effect, a handful of lawsuits were immediately filed under the new law. But for now, it's too early to tell whether the federal government will be looking to settle CLJA claims and, if so, how much an average settlement might be.

The value of your settlement will depend on many factors, including:

  • the severity and permanence of your harm
  • your past and future medical expenses
  • the impact of your condition on your ability to work, and
  • your pain and suffering.

As of late August 2022, no Camp Lejeune settlement values have been reported. The size of individual settlements is likely to vary. But, remember, the Congressional Budget Office projects spending $6.1 billion to compensate Camp Lejeune victims.

What a Camp Lejeune Lawyer Can Do for You

If you believe you or a loved one were sickened by toxic water at Camp Lejeune, talk to a lawyer. CLJA lawsuits are complicated. You'll have to file an administrative claim first. If your claim is denied, you'll have to file a lawsuit in federal court in North Carolina. A lawyer can explain the process to you, answer your questions, and handle the paperwork.

A lawyer will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your case and help you negotiate a fair settlement. A lawyer will also be able to help you figure out whether you and your family are eligible for VA benefits and how your benefits might be impacted by a CLJA claim.

If you decide to work with a lawyer, the lawyer will collect the records you need to prove that you lived and worked at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days during the relevant time frame. A lawyer will also gather the right medical records and experts to get you the best possible outcome in your case.

Most lawyers handle toxic water lawsuits under a "contingency fee" agreement. This means if you win your case, your lawyer receives a percentage of your compensation. If you lose, you'll owe no lawyer's fees. (You still might have to pay for costs—like court filing fees and expert witness fees—depending on your fee agreement.)

Learn more about hiring a personal injury lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer interested in representing Camp Lejeune victims directly from this page for free.

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