Bagen Law Firm | November 30, 2022 | Uncategorized
President Biden recently signed The PACT Act into law. Congress had passed a far-ranging and extensive veteran’s health care bill to provide medical care to service members who were sickened through exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. As often happens in Congress, other legislative priorities were attached to the bill so that they, too, can become law.
One part of this legislation was the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Anyone exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between 1953 and 1987 might be eligible for financial compensation if diagnosed with an illness.
The Government Exposed Those at Camp Lejeune to Grave Dangers
Service members, government employees, and their families were exposed to dangerous levels of numerous chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune. One water treatment plant received water from groundwater wells located perilously close to chemical dumps.
Numerous toxic chemicals seeped into these wells and contaminated the water. A second water treatment plant was located downhill from an off-base dry cleaner that dumped dangerous chemicals, and toxic substances made their way down the gradient into the wells. A third water treatment plant received water from the other two plants during periods of high demand.
As a result, service members and their families suffered exposure to:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Perchloroethylene (PCE)
- Vinyl chloride
Illnesses Associated With Toxic Camp Lejeune Water
People who drank and bathed in this water have contracted:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
Many of the toxins in the water, especially benzene, are known as carcinogens. In addition, toxins have also been shown to cause Parkinson’s disease by damaging the brain.
In addition, families lost children to miscarriages, and some people suffered damage to their reproductive system. There are estimated to be over 100,000 people who may have potential claims against the federal government in connection with toxic Camp Lejeune water.
Victims May Now File Claims Against the Federal Government
According to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, victims can file claims with the federal government for potential financial compensation. The government will review these claims and determine whether to make a settlement offer to the victim. The hope is that people who have been denied justice for decades may now receive the financial compensation they deserve. If the government denies the claim, or if it will not offer enough money, victims can take the case to federal court in North Carolina and have a judge render a decision.
With this new federal cause of action, people focus on getting the appropriate amount of compensation to pay them back for what they lost And how they have suffered. Now, people are left to place a value on claims that may have arisen many years ago. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine how much the government may owe you in compensation.
Compensation Depends on Your Illness and Your Situation
How much you may receive for your Camp Lejeune contaminated water injuries depends on the harm you have suffered. There is no one set amount or schedule that the government will use to determine compensation. If your case reaches court, the jury will consider you as an individual before awarding damages.
The United States federal government self-insures, and there is no limit on the amount of money available to pay for Camp Lejeune injuries. The settlements get paid out of the Judgment Fund of the United States Treasury. Because the government can borrow money from the public through bonds, there is virtually no chance that it will run out of money before it pays the money owed to you.
The Government Must Pay Your Damages in Full
While Congress estimated that the total amount of government liability will exceed $6 billion, that is just an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. This estimate is non-binding and comes from a mandated scoring that the CBO must provide for all legislation involving expenditures.
No government appropriation limits the amount of money spent to compensate injured victims and their families. If the total amount of liability exceeds Congress’s estimate, the government will still need to pay. Unlike other personal injury cases, your reward may not be limited to the financial resources available to the defendant. In addition, unlike the laws in some states, there is no overall cap on the amount you can recover from the federal government.
You Cannot Get Punitive Damages in a Camp Lejeune Claim.
There is one limitation on Camp Lejeune damages that comes from federal law. Like any case against a governmental entity, you cannot recover punitive damages. Only a jury can award these; even a jury cannot hit the federal or state government with punitive damage verdicts. This concept is included explicitly in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
It does not matter that the government was both negligent and reckless in its conduct that allowed scores of people to be injured. Although you can hold them financially responsible, they cannot face punishment.
There has been much speculation about the amount injured Camp Lejeune claimants may be eligible to receive. Everything depends on the illness and the extent of damage that it causes. Even two people who suffer from the same illness may be due different amounts of financial compensation.
Guidance from Other Mass Tort Cases that Involve Cancer
Many of the Camp Lejeune claims for compensation involve different types of cancers. If the history of other mass tort cases is a guide, cancer may result in a settlement of between $200,000 to $500,000. Some personal injury attorneys have estimated the high end of the settlement range to be up to $1 million.
Some Camp Lejeune claims result from the victim being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after exposure to toxic water. These claims may have a different value than cancer claims, and settlement estimates range from $100,000 to $400,000.
Personal injury victims have their own experiences and suffer in their own ways from their illnesses. For example, someone may have developed an illness when they were younger and lost more wages than they might have earned and the quality of their life. These people will deserve more in damages.
In the end, each attorney’s prediction about the value of a Camp Lejeune settlement comes from their personal experience and reading previous mass tort cases. What separates this case from others is that it is a mass tort case involving the federal government. While legal principles of compensation are the same, the government has no extensive track record of compensating victims in cases like this.
Some estimates of the lower end of the settlement range have claimed that some victims might receive as little as $1,000 to $25,000. Those are estimates from attorneys giving their own opinion about how a case may be handled. All personal injury compensation depends on the scope and extent of your damages. If you have been seriously sickened or a loved one has died, you can expect far more than the lower end of the settlement estimates. These numbers get issued in connection with minor illnesses resulting from the Camp Lejeune water.
Elements of Your Camp Lejeune Settlement
Your Camp Lejeune settlement may include damages for:
- The cost of the medical bills to treat your injuries (although these may be covered under other federal laws that already allow for benefits to cover Camp Lejeune medical expenses – but the VA has already unfairly denied numerous claims in connection with the toxic water)
- Lost wages for the time that you missed from work for the wages that you might have earned
- Pain and suffering from the physical and emotional distress you have experienced because of your illness
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium damages for a spouse
- Emotional distress
Wrongful Death Claims by Camp Lejeune Families
If your loved one died from their Camp Lejeune injury, your family can file a wrongful death claim against the federal government. Here, your personal injury is that you lost a loved one prematurely to the government’s wrongful actions.
Wrongful death compensation will include:
- The income that your loved one might have earned had they continued working
- Your family’s grief and trauma from losing a family member
- The loss of a close and loving relationship with the deceased person
In addition, your family can also recover compensation for what your loved one endured between the time of their illness and death. Many people had cancer for several years before they ultimately died. That will all be compensable in a personal injury claim.
Your damages are personal and specific to you. No class action lawsuit will cover all injured Camp Lejeune victims. The courts cannot certify a class because everyone suffered different harms.
In the end, your settlement amount will depend on what you can negotiate with the federal government. They may still make you low settlement offers like any insurance company when you file a claim.
You do not need to take what the government offers you simply because they are the government. They are the same as any other defendant in a personal injury case. They have a legal obligation to pay for your damages and cannot escape it by offering you less. If the government makes you a low settlement offer, you can reject it and counter it with your demand.
Disability Benefits Will Not Be Affected by Your Settlement
The one thing that will not affect the amount of your Camp Lejeune settlement is that you may have previously received VA disability benefits for your injury. Eight specific illnesses are presumed to be caused by the contaminated Camp Lejeune water for purposes of VA claims.
Prior law provides that injured veterans can receive benefits for their injuries. In practice, the VA has poorly implemented this law, unreasonably denying numerous claims because it did not have the skills to handle them. Nonetheless, the law says explicitly that a Camp Lejeune settlement will not affect future eligibility for disability benefits. It also does not say your settlement will be lower due to benefits that you have already received.
Here, the government is like any other personal injury defendant being held accountable for their conduct. They must offer you a reasonable settlement that fairly and fully compensates you for the damages you and your family have suffered. The government must negotiate with you like it would with any other plaintiff. If they do not offer you an appropriate settlement, the law gives you the right to file a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Given the extent and pervasiveness of the government’s alleged misconduct, they should have every reason to fear you in court. This gives your attorney some leverage during pretrial settlement negotiations, but you need the right legal representation for negotiations to be effective.
Consult with a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Attorney Immediately
You can maximize your settlement value by hiring an experienced personal injury attorney to handle your claim. Your lawyer will learn the value of your case by speaking with you and understanding your situation. They will help present your claim to the federal government compellingly. If the government does not offer you enough money, they will advise you to reject the settlement and either counter with your own figures or file a lawsuit in federal court.
If you try to save money by handling your claim, you can end up with far less money than you might otherwise get when you hire an attorney. Once you accept a settlement, you cannot later request more. If you realize you accepted too little, you have few options to get the rest of the compensation you deserve. Never accept a settlement offer without legal advice. Further, once the window closes on the lawsuit opportunity, you cannot seek compensation for your illness. Do not wait to seek legal help. Call today.