The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) passed by President Joe Biden in August 2022 offered the victims some hope for justice. The North Carolina Camp went down in US history as the site of the worst-ever public water contamination crisis.
Veterans and their families were exposed to dangerous levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in three water tanks across the Base. These included Hadnot Point, the Tarawa Terrace, and the Holcomb Boulevard. Sometime after the damage silently took place for decades (1953 – 1987), cases of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, infertility issues, etc. started emerging.
Under the Obama administration, victims were eligible to receive free medical care. However, no compensatory measures were taken until 2022’s CLJA. A year later, hope seems to be dwindling as the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) has made no settlement.
Mark Partain, who developed breast cancer due to the Base’s toxic waters, called the entire process a “dog fight.” Some who filed their claims on the day the filing window opened have succumbed to their injuries. How many more lives have to be sacrificed at the altar before the Navy expedites the process?
In this article, we will understand the claims process to estimate when a claim may be settled (after filing).
Factors Affecting Claims Settlement
The best lawyers for the Camp Lejeune lawsuit are putting up a fierce legal battle to get fair settlements for their clients. However, as to the time, the process depends upon some crucial factors, including –
When the Claim Was Filed
The CLJA established a separate Statute of Limitations for the Camp Lejeune administrative claims filing. Victims must file their claims within two years from the date the Bill was passed. This means the filing window is open till August 2024.
But lawyers believe the sooner, the better. Once a claim is filed, the process towards a settlement is successfully initiated.
What Condition(s) is associated with a Claim
Another factor affecting the time taken to reach a settlement is the condition(s) for which the claim is filed. For instance – The Department of Veterans Affairs published a long list of presumptive conditions associated with the Camp’s waters.
If a claimant’s injury is any of these conditions (already established), the settlement process may be faster. On the other hand, if there is no established connection, the process will require more proof and, therefore, more time.
Moving along the Process of Claims Settlement
According to TorHoerman Law, the claimant will start with an initial consultation where attorneys take time to review their case. This helps in the estimation of the case’s strength and the chances of success (should a claim be filed).
Then, the next stages will follow as a part of the claims settlement.
The Pre-Perfection Process
Once the claimant has filed a claim with the Navy JAG, it will go through what is called the pre-perfection process. In this stage, the particular case’s details are gathered, and a claim number is assigned.
A little while after a claim number is assigned, the Navy will issue perfection letters. This is crucial to ensure that the Statute of Limitations is stalled for that claim. Meaning, the deadline clock stops ticking.
Once the perfection letters are mailed to the claimant, their claim enters the claim management phase. This period is dedicated to searching whether multiple law firms have filed a claim for the same client.
The government will also search for any duplicate claims filed by the claimant. If any is discovered, the claim management phase will involve untangling the mess before the claim can move further.
The Adjudication Phase
In the adjudication phase, it is determined whether a lawsuit has already been filed by the claimant. If yes, the court will issue what is known as a Parker Denial. This process involves issuing a denial letter to the claimant upon the DOJ or the trial attorney’s request.
The Substantiation Phase
The adjudication phase proceeds into the substantiation phase, which is a lot like the lawsuit’s discovery phase. This stage will involve substantiation requests where the other party will ask for relevant documents and case-related information.
In this phase, the following must be established –
The standing part of substantiation is all about proving that the claimant has a right to file a claim. The Navy JAG will review the claimant’s birth certificates, military records (for servicemen), and employment records if they were exposed to the contaminants while working at Camp Lejeune.
If a claim is related to a wrongful death, the standing would also require the death certificate of the victim. All improper or fraudulent claims will be weeded out.
Here, the aim is to determine the link between the claimant’s condition and the Camp’s water contaminants. Medical expert opinions will ensure the claimant’s condition is a direct result of their exposure to the Camp’s water.
Under damages, the complete aftermath of the tragedy is assessed as it applies to the claimant. Besides the physical injuries, the Navy will consider lost wages, medical bills, and even non-economic losses like pain and suffering.
This stage will involve deciding the amount a claim is worth.
Benefits Already Received
In this phase, the Navy will review any benefits the claimant may have received from the VA or Medicare. What they’re essentially trying to do is find the offset amount before the compensation can be made.
How Long Before Justice is Served?
Given the severity of their injuries, claimants are frustrated as the settlement process is moving at a snail’s pace. So, how long will all the above-mentioned phases take? The first correspondence may be expected within six months of claim filing. Soon after, perfected claim letters will be issued to the claimant.
After the perfection letters, substantiation requests will be made. The substantiation process (with its three stages) can take several months. Then, attorneys also need to spend time negotiating to ensure the claimant receives a fair settlement (another month or two).
Although no exact dates are given, it is estimated that it may take at least a year (after claim filing) to receive any kind of settlement. If the case proceeds to a lawsuit, it will take much longer. As of now, it’s a waiting game till the Navy JAG makes any substantial progress.