Marines and their families sickened by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will not be losing most of their compensation to “egregious” attorney fees, as emphasized during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Nov. 8.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, had introduced the Protect Camp Lejeune Victims Ensnared by Trial-lawyers’ Scams (VETS) Act earlier this year in an attempt to set caps on attorney fees related to cases brought about by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which became law in August 2022 and allowed those sickened by toxic water at the base between 1953 and 1987 to sue for damages.
Navy officials have said more than 100,000 Marine veterans and their families have filed claims, but there have been no settlements or trials related to the claims to date.
“We got very significant funding for Marines and their families who served at Camp Lejeune in the ‘70s and ‘80s who were subject to those challenges with the water system at Camp Lejeune, and sickness that resulted from that,” Sullivan said at Wednesday’s press conference outside the Capitol, which included American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer and staff from the Legion’s Washington, D.C., office.
Sullivan blamed members of Congress for blocking initial attempts to set caps on attorney fees, even after the Department of Justice advised that those caps be put into place.
Sullivan noted that some firms were charging 65 to 70 percent in contingency fees for their service in assisting Marines and their families with their claims.
“It’s a zero-sum game. The money’s either going to go to sick Marines and their families, who deserve it, or trial lawyers,” Sullivan said.
But the Department of Justice confirmed in an Oct. 27 court filing that the Federal Tort Claims Act already caps fees at 20 percent for administrative work and 25 percent for litigation for Camp Lejeune claims.
“If you’re a veteran from Camp Lejeune, anywhere in America, and you signed an agreement with a law firm that says that law firm is going to get 70 percent of your money, wrong answer. That’s against the law. I heard it directly from the attorney general of the United States of America,” Sullivan said. “…So even if you’ve signed, and this is according to the Justice Department, we specifically asked them these questions, those are null and void. But we need veterans and Marines and their families to know that. You are not stuck with 70 percent contingency arrangement right now.”
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sullivan thanked The American Legion for their support of veterans and their families through the Legion’s support of the Camp Lejeune legislation.
“The American Legion has been by our side from day one, fighting for this,” Sullivan said.
Resolution 2022-15 urged Congress “to provide the necessary oversight during the implementation of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act to ensure veterans receive fair consideration of their lawsuits and protections against predatory law firms.”
“While we rejoiced upon the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, the need for modifications to streamline its implementation and protect veterans from bad actors quickly emerged,” Seehafer said. “Billions of dollars have been spent by these companies on convincing, predatory marketing campaigns targeting sick Marines and their families. … Thankfully, the Department of Justice recently announced the institution of caps on fees trial lawyers can charge in representing Marines and others impacted by Camp Lejeune toxic exposures. This recent news is a welcomed protection for thousands who have been impacted.”
Veterans and their families have until Aug. 10, 2024, to submit a claim related to the Camp Lejeune toxic exposure.