Navigating Camp Lejeune Litigation: 5 More Things Attorneys Need to Know

Contaminated water at Camp Lejeune (1953-1987) resulted in health problems from VOCs, leading to ongoing lawsuits; challenges include proving connections, involving experts, and engaging various law firms under the 2022 Camp Lejeune Justice Act.

Navigating Camp Lejeune Litigation: 5 More Things Attorneys Need to Know

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.


Published on March 7, 2024

Navigating Camp Lejeune Litigation: 5 More Things Attorneys Need to Know

From 1953 to 1987, those at Camp Lejeune drank, cooked, and washed in contaminated water delivered to base homes and businesses through the water system. Marines, their families, and civilians working on the base were all affected.

Located near Jacksonville, North Carolina, Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine Corps training facility on the East Coast. Its size and resources, including 14 miles of coastline, make it a key training facility - and one used by thousands of servicemembers and civilians over the years.

Now, those exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune are filing lawsuits to seek compensation. The recently-signed Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 expanded the time available for veterans and civilians to file claims.

In late 2022, Expert Institute provided insights on how attorneys can better serve clients in Camp Lejeune water contamination claims. As these claims progress, here are five more things attorneys need to know.

Status of Camp Lejeune Litigation

The focus of Camp Lejeune litigation rests with the Eastern District of North Carolina, where over 1,100 separate lawsuits had been filed as of July 22, 2023. Over 660 of the filed lawsuits were waiting on an answer from the U.S. Department of Justice.

On July 22, the four federal judges overseeing the Camp Lejeune litigation issued an order assigning seven lawyers to oversee the progress of the water contamination claims. This panel of attorneys will negotiate potential settlements, identify bellwether cases, and be responsible for document production.

To date, no Camp Lejeune case has reached a settlement. This number includes not only the rapidly-increasing number of cases filed in federal court. It also includes the more than 70,000 administrative claims filed with the United States Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG).

VOCs and Sources at Camp Lejeune

To date, federal research on the contaminants and their effects has been spearheaded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the Centers for Disease Control. According to the ATSDR, a “likely” link exists between the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water and the increased risk of multiple types of cancer.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, share characteristics including high vapor pressure and low water solubility, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many VOCs are used in household goods and processes, including paint, refrigerants, and various fuels. The ease with which VOCs dissolve in water makes them a common groundwater contaminant.

According to ATSDR, the U.S. Marine Corps identified specific VOCs in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. These included trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene. Sources of these contaminants included a local dry cleaner (a significant source of PCEs), leaking underground VOCs storage tanks, industrial spills, and leakage from waste disposal sites. The contaminated water was pumped through at least two on-base water treatment plants, which failed to remove the contaminants, and into homes and other buildings on the base.

Cancer Types Appearing in Camp Lejeune Cases

The ATSDR website notes that exposure to the specific VOCs identified at Camp Lejeune “likely increased the risks of cancers” in those exposed. The agency’s research led it to conclude that there is “sufficient evidence for causation” between the following VOCs and certain cancers and other health issues:

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE): Kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cardiac defects
  • Tetrachlorothylene (PCE): Bladder cancer
  • Vinyl chloride: Liver cancer
  • Benzene: Leukemias, non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The ATSDR also identified causal links that are likely to exist, but for which current available research does not firmly establish a link. In addition to the cancers listed above, this list includes multiple myelomas. It also includes conditions like end-stage renal disease, Parkinson's disease, and scleroderma.

The ATSDR notes that much of the research linking VOC exposure and cancer is performed on laboratory animals or collected in studies of those exposed in the workplace. Studies of the long-term effects of VOC exposure in drinking water are scarce or nonexistent. Research into the health effects experienced by Camp Lejeune residents and workers is still ongoing.

Law Firms Involved in Camp Lejeune Claims

A search for “law firms involved in Camp Lejeune claims” reveals dozens of law firms with informational Web pages and offers to help veterans and their families.

Attorneys appointed to the leadership group come from several law firms, including:

  • Bell Legal Group
  • The Dowling Firm PLLC
  • Keller Postman LLC
  • Lewis & Roberts PLLC
  • Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
  • Wallace & Graham, PA
  • Ward and Smith, PA
  • Weitz & Luxenberg, PC

Many law firms in North and South Carolina are also representing at least one plaintiff or seeking clients to assist in Camp Lejeune-related claims.

Experts Attorneys May Need in Camp Lejeune Contamination Cases

A significant challenge, as outlined by the ATSDR, lies in establishing a causal link between a plaintiff’s specific medical issues and their exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. While some research indicates a causal link between specific VOC exposures and certain conditions is more likely than not, much of the research is inconclusive or nonexistent.

In addition, those qualified to bring claims must have been exposed to the drinking water at Camp Lejeune no later than 1987 - nearly forty years in the past. Narrowing down the link between a plaintiff’s medical condition in 2023 and the water they drank between 1953 and 1987 poses another major challenge.

Expert witnesses opining on medical topics will need to be well-versed in the literature surrounding the connection between specific VOCs and various health risks. Those called for their expertise in water treatment systems will need a keen understanding of how water is treated, whether and how certain VOCs may be removed or reduced, available testing between 1953 and 1987 to identify VOC levels, and what should have been done in response to certain test results.

All of these issues remain uncertain in the Camp Lejeune cases. The bellwether trials are likely to shed light on how specific attorneys and firms deploy their experts in response.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.

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