More than 100 lawsuits filed in U.S. court over Camp Lejeune water after waiting period passes

Water drips from a faucet in a private home in Bordeaux
REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Photo Illustration

(Reuters) - U.S. veterans and their family members have filed more than 100 lawsuits in North Carolina federal court claiming injuries from contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, following the expiration of a key waiting period of a federal law governing the claims.

The lawsuits against the U.S. government alleging the tainted water was the cause of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, kidney damage and other health problems were filed after the earliest claims crossed a six-month threshold set by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, a part of a veterans’ healthcare and benefits bill known as the PACT Act that was signed by President Joe Biden in August.

The law opened a two-year period, beginning on Aug. 10, 2022, for Camp Lejeune claims to be filed administratively with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit in Norfolk, Virginia, which can decide whether to accept liability and offer compensation.

The law requires people to go through the administrative process before filing a lawsuit. They may choose to have their claim handled through the administrative process alone, or six months after filing their administrative claim they may file a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina, under the law. They can bring a lawsuit whether or not they have heard back from the Navy.

Since Feb. 10, court records show that 105 lawsuits brought under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act have been filed in North Carolina federal court.

So far, about 20,000 administrative claims have been filed with the JAG, although none has been fully adjudicated, according to JAG spokesperson Patricia Babb.

“The Navy is committed to resolving all claims related to this matter as fairly, thoroughly, and expeditiously as possible,” Babb said in an email.

Edward Bell of Bell Legal Group, an attorney who was involved in the drafting of the legislation, says his office has filed about 15,000 administrative claims since Aug. 10 and has been filing lawsuits for eligible clients since midnight on Feb. 10.

The government has acknowledged that drinking water on the base was contaminated between 1953 and 1987. The Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said that chemicals in the water likely increased the risk of cancer and other health problems for residents and visitors.

But until the PACT Act became law, the government relied on a 2016 court opinion to deny claims, saying the conditions didn't warrant lifting the government's sovereign immunity.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates as many as one million people may have been exposed to contamination.

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