It’s been over a year since President Joe Biden officially signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA). Veterans and their families affected by the North Carolina Camp’s toxic waters were granted the right to seek justice.
In the months that ensued, thousands of administrative claims were filed with the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG). Victims were hopeful of quick settlements given the arduous struggle of four decades.
However, the outcomes were less than favorable. Despite 93,000 claims over a year, all the Navy had to offer were excuses. A certain degree of moral culpability rested on the Navy JAG’s shoulders as veterans were living on borrowed time.
Thankfully, hope seems to rise again as the first significant movement in the litigation has taken place. However, this anticipated progress is fiercely contested with dueling proposals, as discussed in detail in this article.
Dissension in the Case Management Plan
The first-ever trial for this litigation will soon take place, and the judges need to review the case management plan. Despite being good news, there are certain roadblocks to overcome. A substantive clash exists between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the plaintiff’s counsel.
This clash has taken place in the case management plan. For instance – the plaintiff’s counsel has proposed that multiple plaintiffs must be selected for a single trial. It has also asked for the commencement date to be sometime in Q1 of 2024.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys stated that there should not be further delays as Camp Lejeune victims have already waited long enough. Even then, it may take some time to determine the Camp Lejeune lawsuit payout per person due to specifics like –
- Severity of injuries suffered
- Proof of exposure to the contaminants while being stationed at the Camp
- Assessment of economic and non-economic damages
According to TorHoerman Law, plaintiffs need to prepare a compelling case for fair settlements since the amount will vary. The case-to-case scrutiny will take additional time (after the trial results are out). This depends on whether there are further trials in this litigation.
The DOJ agreed to the proposal of starting the trial sometime in the first quarter of 2024. But its lawyers need to see eye-to-eye on matters of case consolidation. They filed a motion supporting multiple plaintiffs for a single trial only after the discovery phase.
Meanwhile, the litigation’s statute of limitations is coming to a close, and 1,100 lawsuits have already been filed.
The Issue with Disease Inclusion in Track 1 Cases
Track 1 generally includes those cases that are given a priority status, and must receive expedited outcomes. This means whichever disease is listed under Track 1 cases; the respective plaintiffs have a faster chance of receiving settlements.
As per the plaintiff counsel’s proposal, the following diseases must be included under Track 1 –
- Kidney cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Bladder cancer
On the other hand, the government (DOJ) only wants three of these diseases to be included. It does not feel like bladder cancer, and leukemia needs a spot. How should this be decided? Ideally, the diseases that have the strongest connection with the Camp’s toxic waters should go under Track 1 case.
Additionally, it is important to remember that certain injuries are deadlier than others. Given the timeframe of the struggle for justice, these victims are practically living with one foot in their graves. Their urgency must also be called to attention while choosing the list of diseases.
The Dilemma of Which Lawsuits Must First Go to Trial
At the time of filing administrative claims, there were speculations (and concerns) about whether cases filed towards the end would find a place in the trial. It turns out the answer to that is a no. But, neither will the early plaintiffs benefit because only cases most representative of the MDL can be chosen.
Issues arose even for the lead counsel appointment. A motion was filed to overthrow the leadership order on grounds of the common judicial practice of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a).
Even the Manual for Complex Litigation favors a concrete leadership structure to make things easier in complex cases. It goes without stating that Camp Lejeune is a complex litigation with thousands of plaintiffs.
The Road Ahead: Hopeful or Frustrating?
After a year-long ride of ups and downs, the Camp Lejeune litigation seems to have arrived at its anticipated stoppage. Now that conversations of the trial are happening in full force, it is expected that the plaintiff’s counsel will not rest.
Attorneys will build such pressure that the court will have to stick to a trial date in Q1 of 2024. The current obstructions are temporary, and soon judges will disclose the final course of action.