It is estimated that between 1953 and 1987 as many as 1 million people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina. That exposure led to the development of severe, and sometimes fatal, diseases in many cases. Victims and family members of those who passed away may be eligible for compensation for those illnesses and deaths.
If you wonder whether you might have a viable claim, contact a North Carolina Camp Lejeune Water Contamination attorney at Johnson & Groninger PLLC right away by using our online contact form or by calling one of our offices: (919) 240-4054 (Durham) or (704) 200-2009 (Charlotte).
Continue reading to learn more about the devastating effects of Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water.
The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Catastrophe
Five water treatment plants provided water to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
In about 1982 it was discovered that two of those treatment plants, Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point, were severely contaminated with volatile organic compounds. Tarawa Terrace was the leading culprit, because it was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene (PCE), a solvent used in dry cleaning operations.
ABC One-Hour Cleaners, a dry cleaner approximately two miles away from the base, is largely responsible for the high quantity of PCE in the drinking water. ABC improperly disposed of the PCE by allowing it to go down their drains and into their septic tank which leached the contaminated water into the groundwater and the soil.
ABC also buried PCE outside one of their buildings, leading to additional contamination. The groundwater was pumped by a well to the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plan which provided water to Camp Lejeune and a nearby housing complex.
Hadnot Point was also contaminated with PCE and other compounds, believed to have multiple sources, including metal-cleaning solvents and spills of chemicals on-base.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates that 500,000 to 1 million people, if not more, were exposed to these highly toxic chemicals in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water between 1950 and 1987.
Those affected include military servicemembers, their families, and civilians such as base visitors, civilian contractors, and those who lived in nearby housing developments. This exposure caused and increased the risk of various cancers, birth defects, and other health problems.
Health Conditions Caused by the Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune
Several diagnosable health conditions have been linked to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Here’s a closer look at some of them.
- Leukemia – The term leukemia refers to a cancer of the blood, but there are different types of the disease. Persons with slow-growing leukemia might not show any symptoms, but those with rapid-growing leukemia may experience sudden weight loss, extreme fatigue, bruising, and bleeding.
- Bladder Cancer – This type of cancer typically affects older adults and begins in the bladder and is first detected by blood in the urine. Although it has no cure and is likely to recur, it can be more easily treated and managed if it is detected early.
- Esophageal cancer – The esophagus is the tube that connects that mouth to the stomach. When cancer cells develop in this area, it is often fatal. Some symptoms of esophageal cancer include difficulty swallowing, throat pain, and sudden weight loss. If there is bleeding into the esophagus, blood will pass into the digestive tract and will likely result in black stool.
- ALS – Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that deteriorates nerves in the spinal cord and brain, eventually resulting in a loss of movement in all extremities. Someone with ALS will eventually not be able to breathe without the use of a ventilator.
- Parkinson’s Disease – Parkinson’s is a disorder of the central nervous system damage, causing uncontrollable body movements such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulties with mobility and balance.
- Aplastic Anemia – This disease reduces the production of new blood cells, resulting in symptoms such as chronic fatigue and trouble breathing.
- Reproductive Issues and Birth Defects – The contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune water has been linked to an increased risk of reproductive issues such as miscarriages, infertility, and to several birth defects.
Compensation You May Be Entitled To With the Help of an Attorney
In North Carolina, there are two primary types of monetary damages that can be awarded in a civil lawsuit such as one for illnesses or death caused by the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune: special damages and general damages.
If you’re a military veteran, you may be entitled to additional VA benefits under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2021.
Also called “economic” damages, special damages are those that can be easily quantified as costs you’ve incurred such as medical bills or funeral costs, and funds you lost such as decreased or lost wages due to your illness.
Your Johnson & Groninger PLLC Camp Lejeune water contamination attorney will help you prove the validity of your requested special damages with the assistance of renowned medical and vocational experts.
Many of the health conditions caused by the contaminated water are very serious and require significant medical testing and long-treatment or care, easily costing tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
The special damages requested in your case will include your past medical bills and estimated future medical costs including doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, physical therapy, and other anticipated long-term care.
Your illnesses might have caused you to miss work to receive medical treatment, or it was so severe that you could no longer work or you had to change jobs because you could no longer perform your required job duties, taking a pay cut in the process.
You may be eligible to receive compensation for the earnings you lost for missed work, the value of benefits you lost such as accrued vacation leave or promotions, the financial loss caused by a reduced salary, or lost earnings due to your inability to work.
Although these figures are quantifiable because they are based on actual income figures, a vocational examination performed by a certified expert will be necessary to prove these damages.
Pain and Suffering
Not only does a severe illness result in significant financial costs, it can also lead to a lower quality or enjoyment of life, mental trauma or distress, disability or disfigurement, or loss of companionship if the illness caused the death of a loved one–these are collectively called “pain and suffering.”
These damages aren’t as easily calculated as special damages and require an experienced North Carolina Camp Lejeune Water Contamination lawyer to ensure you receive the full compensation you’re entitled to.
Here are some examples of what may constitute pain and suffering:
- Actual physical pain such as nerve pain, neurological issues such as headaches or migraines, or physical ailments like broken bones or joint stiffness.
- Reduced quality of life due to disability or disfigurement, including a change in mobility, the need for full-time medical devices such as a ventilator, or the inability to complete tasks without assistance.
- The mental or emotional trauma resulting from your illness such as your psychological well-being and changes, behavioral changes, and a reduced self-image caused by your disability or limitations.
Additional VA Benefits
In addition to your right to seek damages in a civil lawsuit, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2021 has expanded the benefits available to reservists, guardsmen, and veterans who were diagnosed with illnesses after being exposed to the contaminated drinking water.
In order to qualify, you must not have been dishonorably discharged, and you must have either lived or worked on Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. You also may qualify if you were exposed to the contaminated water in utero during that time.
Either your VA regional office or your attorney can help you file the correct paperwork to receive the additional benefits afforded to you under the Act.
Filing a Claim for Damages
The type of claim that you’ll need to file depends on your personal association with Camp Lejeune. For instance, if you’re a former member of the military and lived at Camp Lejeune yourself, you’ll need to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination claim. If you lost a loved one, you’ll need to file a claim for wrongful death.
If the claim is denied, or after 6 months have passed, can a lawsuit be filed in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Both types of claims are intricate and complex, requiring the expertise of a North Carolina Camp Lejeune Water Contamination attorney. For all of those scenarios, you’ll need to prove the following:
- The affected person lived or worked on or very near the base during the known period of exposure, or they were exposed before birth.
- That person became ill with one of the medical conditions known to be caused by PCE and the other contaminants, or prove that other conditions were caused by the exposure
- If the person died, the cause of their death must be linked to the illness(es) linked to Camp Lejeune.
- Evidence confirming all of the above information and proving any damages sought must be proven by records and other evidence.
Did you live at Camp Lejeune? Take the next step toward justice today.
If you or a loved one suffered medical conditions due to exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, it’s time for you to seek rightful compensation for your damages. This can be very complicated, so it’s important that you have the help of a skilled, experienced North Carolina Camp Lejeune Water Contamination attorney at Johnson & Groninger PLLC
Call us at (919) 240-4054 (Durham) or (704) 200-2009 (Charlotte) or use our online contact form to schedule your consultation.