When President Joe Biden officially signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act back in August 2022, toxic water victims had hopes of being compensated for their damages. The Bill was the first step towards justice in a decades-long fight against the Federal government for their gross negligence at North Carolina’s US Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune.
Between August 1953 and December 1987, thousands of veterans and their families were exposed to water with hazardous levels (1,400 ppb) of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). That is over a hundred times the safe limit.
Just 30 days of consuming such toxic water could lead to conditions like cancers of the bladder, kidney, and liver, aplastic anemia, Parkinson’s disease, adult leukemia, and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to the official website of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
While the Bill came as a ray of hope, delays in claims settlement dwindled what was left. Even after nine months of pledging compensation for Camp Lejeune victims, the US Navy has not settled a single claim yet. According to a Bloomberg report, 45,000 cases are waiting for review, and the number is expected to grow 10 times by the time the filing window closes in August 2024.
To add salt to these wounds, the plaintiff’s bar seems to be milking the tragedy for personal profits. What is this travesty in the making and is there a way out for plaintiffs? This article delves deeper into the full-blown legal marketing tactic in plain sight.
Contingency Fees under the Federal Tort Claims Act
The Federal Tort Claims Act or FTCA is a 1946 Federal legislation that lays down the regulations surrounding claims settlement for individuals who have suffered personal injuries due to the wrongful act or negligence of the Federal government.
This means the Federal government acts as a self-insurer, recognizing liability for negligence, wrongful acts, or omissions by its employees. To file a valid claim under this Act, the plaintiff must prove that –
- Their injury was caused by a Federal government employee
- The employee was acting within the scope of their prescribed official duties
- The employee behaved in a negligent and wrongful manner, leading to the injury or property damage
- The injury is a direct result of the employee’s negligence, wrongful act, or omission
The Act also prohibits the plaintiff’s bar from charging a contingency fee that exceeds 20% of the recovered settlement amount if the recovery happens before a lawsuit is filed in court. In case a lawsuit is filed and the settlement is made before or after trial, the attorney’s contingency fee may go up to 25% of the recovered amount.
If an attorney charges an amount higher than the maximum limit of 25%, they shall be liable to pay a fine of $2000, go behind bars for not more than a year, or both in some cases.
What Changed with the Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?
The FTCA’s rules were strictly adhered to for every mass tort personal injury lawsuit involving the Federal government. However, there was a radical change with the Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit as Congress eased certain aspects of the legislation.
It removed all attorney fee caps, allowing the plaintiff’s bar to collect client fees as per their choice. Not only that but the legislation further reduced the evidentiary burdens of the plaintiffs. This meant that minimal legislation effort was needed for a claims settlement.
Though the change was done to support veterans living on borrowed time, many plaintiff attorneys took advantage by charging contingency fees as high as 40% of the recovered amount for half the effort. According to John Masslon of the Washington Legal Foundation, this move was nothing but the plaintiff bar’s ploy to tug at the heartstrings of vulnerable people so they could get rich fast. Not to mention taxpayers who will need to shelve billions to support the bar’s dirty scheme.
Heavy Legal Marketing Builds Further Momentum
The Camp Lejeune water contamination litigation is considered to be the largest-ever mass tort in US history, with an expected 500,000 claims to be filed by August 2024. Could there be a more lucrative lawsuit for attorneys or asset class for investors? It seems not, which is why it is also the mass tort with the highest ad spend in 2022 – an estimated $145 million.
The primary medium to attract claimants is advertising, which is carefully handled by ad agencies called lead generators. These agencies search for clients across social media platforms, disrupt Camp Lejeune virtual communities, and even retrieve medical records to target potential clients.
Once a lucrative pool of clients is under their belt, lead generators sell the cases to relevant law firms. The price is adjusted based on factors like the litigation’s progress and the number of lawyers advertising the case. As the lawsuit proceeds, more lawyers get involved, and ad spending also increases in proportion.
The primary reason why the Camp Lejeune lawsuit is expected to grow so large is due to innovations in digital marketing, something which was unavailable even a decade ago. All these marketing efforts are further fuelling the plaintiff bar’s appetite for personal gains.
Navigating the Legal Maze
With attorneys in a mad rush for self-interest, Camp Lejeune plaintiffs are facing a tough choice – many cannot afford the exorbitant fees (especially because individual claims settlements depend largely upon factors like injuries suffered, duration, etc.), and winning against the Federal government without an attorney is a rare possibility.
According to TorHoerman Law, a plaintiff’s best chance at avoiding both extremes is to choose an attorney who offers a free consultation, does not charge any fees upfront, and even after claims settlement, asks for 20 to 25% of the recovered amount.
Other than that, listed below are a few factors that prove a lawyer’s competency for Camp Lejeune cases –
- Extensive experience in handling (and winning) lawsuits against the Federal government
- Readiness to handle your case within the government-specified statutes of limitations (August 10th, 2024)
- Ability to ascertain a fair compensation value, which is not just based on physical injuries but also lost wages and psychological damage
- A complete understanding of the latest developments taking place under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
- Availability of personalized legal support aimed at maximizing recovery
As concerns are raised regarding the plaintiff bar’s scheme to get rich quickly, it is expected that Congress will soon realize and rectify the error of its ways. As of July 2023, 1,000 new lawsuits were filed in the Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Out of these, at least 663 are still awaiting a response from the Judges’ end. The US Department of Justice has pleaded with the District Court Judges to accelerate the case consolidation process. This is crucial in light of the possibility of an avalanche of cases in the upcoming months.
Veterans are also upset with the lawsuit’s slow progress through the US court, particularly those who are aging and ailing. The Federal Court will soon select the top attorneys and law firms to lead the Camp Lejeune lawsuit for the consolidated proceedings. Are fast and fair settlements on the horizon? Only time is the best judge.
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