The U.S. government has stated that previously denied Camp Lejeune claimants must resubmit under the new requirements stipulated in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. In response to Camp Lejeune plaintiffs, the government explained individuals need to notify the Navy of their claim before reinitiating their lawsuit under the new Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 standards. Plaintiffs argued they had already satisfied the notification requirement when they originally filed their claims, which the government denied. However, the government states that by proceeding with lawsuits without informing the Navy, claimants failed to show they had exhausted administrative remedies.
Honoring Our PACT Act Revives Camp Lejeune
After a long-fought battle, President Biden signed into law the highly anticipated Honoring Our PACT Act on August 10, 2022. The PACT Act seeks to expand healthcare and benefits for veterans who suffered injuries from hazardous burn pits, Agent Orange, or other forms of toxic exposure. This act opened the door for an estimated 5 million veterans to seek disability-related compensation by extending and expanding eligibility requirements. Furthermore, it added more than 20 presumptive conditions related to burn pits and toxic exposure.
The PACT Act also includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA), allowing individuals to file claims against the federal government for contaminated water at the Camp Lejeune military base from 1953 to 1987. As many as an estimated one million service members, families, and workers stationed at the Camp Lejeune base in North Carolina used water polluted with high concentrations of harmful chemicals for over three decades. A North Carolina ten-year statute of repose caused the dissolution of the Camp Lejeune MDL and the Navy to reject over 4,000 claims. However, the CLJA now allows individuals injured by the toxic water to seek compensation.
Previously Denied Plaintiffs File Claims Under New Act
Immediately after the passing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, numerous individuals took the opportunity to file lawsuits under the new law. The government denied many of these claims prior to the CLJA. Before an individual can pursue a lawsuit, the CLJA requires individuals to file claims with the U.S. Department of the Navy. Only after the Navy rejects the claim in writing or fails to make a final disposition in six months can an individual file a lawsuit in federal court.
In September 2022, U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III expressed concerns that some of the lawsuits were premature since they did not notify the Navy of the claim before filing. Previously denied claimants argued that the government had already addressed their Camp Lejeune claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Therefore, plaintiffs believe they should not have to go through the administrative process a second time under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. In October 2022, plaintiffs filed a memorandum stating there is nothing in the CLJA mandating they endure the same administrative process again. Also, plaintiffs submitted documentation to show the government previously reviewed and denied their Camp Lejeune claims.
Government Replies to Camp Lejeune Plaintiffs
While the CLJA permits victims to seek legal recourse, the government states that individuals must first present claims to the appropriate agency, in this case, the Navy. According to the government, the administrative exhaustion requirement provides claimants and the Navy an opportunity to administratively resolve the claims before filing a lawsuit in federal court. This requirement lets the Navy assess the claim to determine whether it should be paid or settled before litigation. Congress intended this amendment to ease court congestion and avoid unnecessary claims through proper investigation.
Although the government dismissed these claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government argued it had not reviewed the claims under the new standards set forth by the CLJA. The plaintiffs will be able to make one more response by November 17. Afterward, Judge Dever will determine if lawsuits should be denied, forcing clients to resubmit and wait up to another six months.