Camp Lejeune EDNC Experience
The passage of the PACT Act has provided thousands, maybe millions, of persons sickened by contaminated water at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune with the opportunity to seek fair compensation for their injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
Persons sickened by contaminated water between 1953 and 1988 can bring claims, as can families of deceased persons whose illnesses and deaths can be linked to exposure.
The Pact Act requires all claims that are not resolved administratively to be brought in Federal District Court in North Carolina’s Eastern District.
Arnold & Smith, PLLC’s experienced litigation team has litigated numerous civil and criminal cases in the Eastern District of North Carolina, litigating claims from their inception through jury trial. Arnold & Smith, PLLC has a proven track record of success in the Eastern District of North Carolina and beyond.Prior Camp Lejeune Litigation Underscores Why Experienced Litigators Needed
While legislation authorizing claims against the federal government for water contamination at Camp Lejeune is new, the contamination, and the illnesses, deaths, and litigation it spawned has been around for decades.
Arnold & Smith’s personal injury team has followed the Camp Lejeune water contamination litigation for over a decade. On December 3, 2010, Arnold & Smith’s Paul Tharp reported in North Carolina Lawyers Weekly that Judge Terrence Boyle, in an order issued in the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, ruled that an Iowa woman who lived on Camp Lejeune with her servicemember husband between 1980 and 1983 and subsequently developed non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, could pursue claims against the federal government.
“[Laura] Jones brought suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that pollutants and contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune caused her cancer,” Tharp reported. The United States moved to dismiss Jones’ suit, arguing that North Carolina’s ten-year statute of repose barred her action. North Carolina’s statute of repose, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-52(16), provides “that no cause of action shall accrue more than 10 years from the last act or omission of the defendant giving rise to the cause of action.”
Statutes of repose, unlike statutes of limitation, set an outside limit for all claims relating to a cause, regardless of the time of discovery of the linkage between an injury and its cause. In the early Camp Lejeune water contamination cases, plaintiffs argued that North Carolina’s three-year statute of limitation did not begin to run until the date on which they discovered that their illnesses were related to their exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Since a statute of repose will bar a claim regardless of the date of its discovery (i.e. any claim, regardless of the date of its discovery or “accrual,” is barred if it is brought more than ten-years after the date of injury), the plaintiffs’ claims were barred even though they brought them within the statute of limitations period.
Judge Boyle agreed with the plaintiffs, writing that North Carolina’s public policy was that statutes of repose do not apply to latent diseases. Judge Boyle’s view was that latent diseases are governed instead by the statute of limitations in G.S. § 1-52(16), “which gives plaintiffs three years to file suit from the date upon which they should have reasonably discovered the existence and cause of their illnesses.” Since Jones brought suit within three years of reasonably discovering the existence and cause of her illness, her suit was allowed to proceed.
Boyle wrote that the court could not “fathom a law that would require hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs to bring their claims before they even had opportunity to know they were harmed.” He noted that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee “believed that over 500,000 marines and their families were exposed to toxic substances in Camp Lejeune’s water between the 1950s and 1987.”
Litigation Moves into Another Venue and Perishes
On March 11, 2011, the Eastern District of North Carolina transferred Ms. Jones’ case to the Northern District of Georgia, consolidating her case with seventeen lawsuits and some 4,000 claimants in the administrative process within the Department of Navy, who claimed they were sickened by exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ended all the suits in an order entered on December 5, 2016, ruling that North Carolina’s ten-year statute of repose barred all claims. The Honorable Thomas W. Thrash, Jr., writing for the District Court, noted that:
“In finding that… the North Carolina statute of repose bars the Plaintiffs’ claims, the court is not indifferent to the assertions made by the Plaintiffs here. The Plaintiffs have raised serious allegations and contend they and their families have suffered very serious consequences as a result of the contamination of the water supply at Camp Lejeune. But the nature of the Plaintiffs’ allegations cannot alter the court’s obligation to follow the law.”
In re Camp Lejeune North Carolina Water Contamination Litigation, 1:11-MD-2218-TWT (N.D. Ga. December 5, 2016).
The District Court found that North Carolina’s ten-year statute of repose, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-52(16) applied to the claims of exposed persons. Since the affected water systems were taken out of use in 1987, and the earliest claims were not brought until 1999, the ten-year statute of repose barred all claims.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal on May 22, 2019. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case on June 1, 2020. Ultimately the district and federal courts rejected Camp Lejeune water contamination Plaintiffs’ arguments that various exceptions to the statute of repose would allow their claims to go forward.
North Carolina’s legislature added an exception to the statute of repose during the pendency of the Camp Lejeune water contamination litigation that would have allowed claims like Laura Jones’ to go forward. However, the exception was not retroactively applied, so Jones’ and others’ claims were barred.Formerly Barred Claimants Now Given Two-Year Window for Compensation
The Camp Lejeune litigation ended, but efforts to afford relief to affected persons did not.
Advocates succeeded in proposing and passing legislation. The PACT Act, signed into law on August 10, 2022, gives persons sickened by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune an opportunity to seek the compensation they deserve, until August 10, 2024.
Persons have claims who:
- Spent 30-days at Camp Lejeune (the days do not have to be consecutive);
- The 30-days spent at Camp Lejeune occurred between 1953 and 1988; and
- Exposure to contaminated water caused illness or death.
Persons who may have claims should contact an experienced North Carolina litigation attorney to discuss how to gather the appropriate evidence and submit claims. The experienced attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, can help affected persons
- Gather the appropriate information;
- Complete and file the appropriate administrative forms;
- Set up an estate for persons alleging death resulting from contamination;
- Coordinate with experts and other sources of necessary evidence;
- Present claims to hearing officials and counsel;
- Prepare, file, and prosecute lawsuits in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The legal professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, can help persons file claims and bring suit, as necessary, under the PACT Act, and help those exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune obtain the compensation they deserve. Contact our law firm to schedule your free initial consultation.