In a 34-page ruling filed Tuesday, federal judges rejected arguments from plaintiffs’ lawyers that jury trials were necessary for victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination.
Tuesday’s ruling means that trials over the compensation disputes will be heard and decided only by a judge, preventing sick and dying veterans from having the opportunity to plead their case before a panel of their peers.
The U.S. Justice Department contends that denying jury trials will speed up the process of resolving what is likely to be tens of thousands of cases.
In the meantime, however, the victims of Camp Lejeune are still suffering.
What Happened at Camp Lejeune?
Tuesday’s ruling is the most recent update in what has been a long and arduous battle for compensation for those affected, but what is it that actually happened to cause the need for the multitude of lawsuits?
From 1953 through the 1980s, marines, their families, workers, and others living on or near North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune were exposed to hazardous chemicals. Despite being one of the largest and most active bases on the Atlantic Coast, the base’s drinking water was contaminated with dangerous chemicals like benzene, perchloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride for a period of more than 30 years.
These dangerous chemicals have caused severe and deadly illnesses in those individuals living and working on the base, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, multiple cancers, female infertility or miscarriage, and various neurobehavioral deficits, just to name a few.
The lawsuit is a fight for compensation for those who spent at least 30 cumulative days at the base between 1953 and 1987 and who believe their cancer or other illness was caused by the chemically contaminated drinking water. And, under the more recently instated PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins) Act, veterans and their families may bring a claim against the U.S. government.
Approximately 164,000 veterans, families, and base workers have already filed claims regarding the contamination, and about 1,500 others have filed lawsuits in the North Carolina district because their claims were denied or unresolved after six months.
That number is expected to grow.
The Fight Isn’t Over
According to court papers filed last fall, government attorneys contended that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 specified only “appropriate relief” for victims. However, this reasoning has been called a “misguided effort” to deprive victims of their “statutorily guaranteed right to a jury trial.”
Tuesday’s ruling is considered beneficial to some, as it may expedite the settlement process.
On the other hand, having a jury trial can give victims a sense of much-needed comfort and confidence. After enduring years of harmful exposure, having your voice heard by a jury is a right that every victim deserves.
The first trials could begin sometime in 2024, although notably without jurors present.
While the Justice Department declined to comment on Tuesday’s decision, our firm’s Scott Frost said: “We do not believe this is in the best interest of Marines.”
Our legal team at Frost Law Firm, PC is still in the fight to help those who have suffered from the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, and if you believe you may fit the criteria for a claim, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
The deadline to file is August 10, 2024.