Litigation relating to personal injuries from the Camp Lejeune water contamination is beginning to ramp up. In fact, a status conference hearing has been scheduled for April 5, 2023 in one of the cases. But before we discuss what will happen during that conference, let’s take a quick look at how we got here.
Before the Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
If you’ve been keeping up with the Camp Lejeune water contamination news stories, you’ll recall that President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA) into law in August of last year. The law states that eligible individuals may sue the federal government to recover damages due to exposure to contaminated water from Camp Lejeune.
But before someone can file suit, they must first file an administrative claim with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG). If JAG hasn’t completed processing the claim within six months of filing, the individual can choose to continue waiting or file a civil suit in federal court.
Administrative claims have been pouring into JAG, with tens of thousands filed so far. And as of the time of this writing, it’s not believed that any of those claims have been fully processed. This is a bit frustrating, as most people would prefer to receive compensation for their injuries without having to go to court, or at the very least least, to have some response from the administrative claims process.
With no substantial progress being made with the administrative claims and the six-month waiting period having passed for initial administrative claim filers, the lawsuits have started. There are now at least several hundred cases pending in federal court for the Eastern District of North Carolina before the Honorable U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III.
The Camp Lejeune Water Status Conference
A pre-trial status conference is intended to help the court manage the pre-trial aspects of the case. According to the March 20, 2023 order, the court will hold its status conference at 1 pm on April 5, 2023 at the Terry Sanford Federal Building and United States Courthouse here in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I practice law. At the conference, the court and parties to the lawsuit will discuss various pre-trial matters, such as:
- Protecting evidence.
- Identifying expert witnesses.
- Handling depositions.
- Sorting out the procedures for confirming the specific chemicals claimed to have caused injuries, as well as where those chemicals came from and when they were discharged.
- Establishing the process for potential settlement or mediation.
- Addressing the process for initial disclosures.
As you can see, these issues are vitally important, and with the huge volume of cases expected to be filed, the federal court in North Carolina will need an efficient system or the cases will take many years to resolve.
Further, the issue of handling initial disclosures is especially important because it refers to each party in the lawsuit providing a list to the other side that identifies the potential evidence they may use in the case. This means listing the identity of any potential witnesses and describing the documents or other evidence each side has. Each side must provide these “initial disclosures” without the other party having to first send a formal discovery request. One of the goals of the initial disclosure requirement is to save time during discovery (which is often the longest and most expensive part of litigation).
After this status conference, the judge and parties in the case will have a clearer picture of what they can expect from the other side before trial. This will then make it easier for the judge to schedule the other parts of the litigation, such as completing discovery and when the litigants must file certain motions.
There’s still potentially a long way to obtaining recovery if you’ve been injured from the water at Camp Lejeune. But the good news is that things are moving, even if a bit slow. Things should begin picking up, and maybe we’ll see some settlements once JAG can make some progress in processing all the administrative claims after setting up its website to accept electronic filings.
In the meantime, you might have questions about whether your injuries are the result of Camp Lejeune’s water contamination and/or how to proceed with legal action. If so, feel free to contact me and I’ll see what I can do to assist you. My direct line at the office is 919.334.6277.