Under the PACT Act of 2022, a new federal cause of action included in the veterans-support bill could spur litigation from hundreds of thousands of former Camp Lejeune residents, lawyers said.
Attorneys across the United States are preparing to file lawsuits on behalf of people who say contaminated water at a North Carolina Marine Corps base made them sick.
Lawyers anticipating the passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 say a new federal cause of action included in the veterans-support bill could bring forth litigation from hundreds of thousands of former Camp Lejeune residents.
Congress passed the act Aug. 2, and attorneys say they’re hopeful President Joe Biden will sign it as early as this week. The PACT Act (an acronym for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics”) expands benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances.
Within the bill is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which specifically allows for those who came into contact with water at the camp between 1953 and 1987 to sue for harm caused by the exposure. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, up to 1 million military and civilian staff and their families may have been exposed to chemicals linked to a wide-ranging span of health issues, including miscarriages, birth defects and various cancers.
And with so many soon-to-be plaintiffs, many firms have been advertising their services to potential Camp Lejeune claimants.
According to Lawrence Cohan of Philadelphia personal injury firm Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, toxic tort firms seem to be leading the charge to take up Camp Lejeune clients. The new cause of action could give rise to “potentially hundreds of thousands of very serious claims,” he said.
“We already represent many hundreds of individuals with serious illnesses and are in the process of interviewing and speaking with many more,” said Cohan.
The act designates the Eastern District of North Carolina as the sole jurisdiction for plaintiffs to bring claims, but the firms gearing up to handle the litigation span the country. The first few Google search results for Camp Lejeune Act lawyers include ads from firms in Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey and Illinois.
John S. Berry Jr., attorney and CEO at Nebraska-based Berry Law Firm, said his veteran disability-focused firm began working to grow its intake staff in April in anticipation of an influx of claims spurred by the act. “I don’t know what that call volume is going to look like,” he said, but he hopes the new hires are enough to handle the increase.
Berry, himself a veteran, said his firm has long represented Camp Lejeune victims making Veteran Affairs disability claims. He said litigation over those injuries has “always been something we’ve been thinking about,” but was not previously an available path.
“The great thing about this litigation is that it gives veterans hope,” said Berry.
Like Cohan, Berry said he has seen a large number of mass tort lawyers seeking out Camp Lejeune clients. He said that while their veteran-targeted advertisements sometimes fall flat, he’s glad to see a large number of firms getting involved and spreading awareness about the new act.
According to Cohan, once Biden signs the bill, potential plaintiffs will have to submit a six months’ notice to the federal government. After that, Cohan said he anticipates that cases will be filed regularly.
The litigation is “not your typical mass tort,” Cohan said. “There will be no MDL, and it is a very complex toxic tort because there are many chemicals over a period of decades that potentially have the ability to cause many harms.” He said the majority of the filings will be litigated as individual claims.
“There are a lot of moving pieces and parts,” said Berry of the PACT Act. He said the broader act also mandates further studies into the effects of certain chemicals, which he said is likely to lead to more litigation down the road. The PACT Act particularly focuses on injuries arising from burn pit exposure, which Berry said could eventually give rise to litigation as well.
In a statement following the PACT Act’s passage, Biden said, “For the millions of veterans who may have been exposed to harmful toxins, this bill means quicker access to health care services and other benefits. This could be the difference between life and death for many suffering from toxic related illnesses.”
Not only is Camp Lejeune part of the PACT Act, but the nearby Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River is also included.