ICYMI: WSJ on the “Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Racket”
WASHINGTON—The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board published an editorial today criticizing Senate Democrats for prioritizing the interests of trial lawyers over sick Marines and their families in cases of water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Marines, their family members, and other individuals are able to seek compensation for service-related toxic exposure at the base as a result of the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which became law in August 2022. However, during consideration of the PACT Act, Senate Democrats blocked votes on any amendments, including an amendment to cap legal fees. Since passage of the law, trial lawyers across the country have unleashed more than $1 billion dollars in television ads and social media campaigns, seeking out Marines and other victims for Camp Lejeune-related cases, and charging contingency fees reportedly as high as 60 percent.
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), has introduced legislation to correct this injustice and finally cap the lawyers’ fees.
EDITORIAL: The Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Racket
How Democrats rigged a legislative payoff for trial lawyers.
By The Editorial Board
March 6, 2023
Any American watching TV in recent months has seen the avalanche of trial-lawyer ads offering to represent Marines exposed to chemicals at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. Here’s the back story on how Democrats in Congress turned a bipartisan effort to aid sick Marines into a new bounty for trial lawyers.
In August President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, which provides compensation to veterans and family members exposed to toxic substances. This includes lawsuits brought by those exposed to chemicals in the water from 1953 to 1987 at Camp Lejeune. Yet even as the bill removed the government’s ability to defend against suits, it eliminated caps on trial-lawyer fees. The tort bar is now preparing to cash in, leaving Marines with little and taxpayers with a ridiculous bill.
This was no accident, as the legislative history makes clear. In 2012 President Obama signed legislation providing federal health dollars to Camp Lejeune veterans who might have been affected by exposure. More recently a bipartisan group in Congress worked on fixing technicalities in federal and state law that denied some plaintiffs the ability to successfully sue the government for compensation.
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.) introduced the first such bill in early 2021 with 163 co-sponsors. Because that legislation made it easier to win lawsuits, it included a fee cap of 20% if claims are adjudicated out of court, and 25% if it goes to trial. This matches fee caps in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the standard route for suing the feds for injury.
Yet in late 2021 North Carolina Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr—longtime proponents of Camp Lejeune payouts—joined Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Gary Peters to introduce a new version without fee caps. Mr. Cartwright quickly followed in the House. Federal disclosure forms show that tort heavyweights such as the Bell Legal Group employed a bevy of lobbyists in 2021 to help pass the Camp LeJeune legislation.
Democrats then stuffed the provision into the House PACT Act to shield it from debate or amendments. Senate Democrats rejected pleas to allow modifications. This included demands from the Biden Justice Department for a no-fault compensation fund—to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation—and fee caps of 2% to file claims and 10% if a lawsuit proved necessary. Senate Democrats ignored this and blocked GOP amendments.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan made these point and more as he asked unanimous Senate consent in December to stop the bilking and impose the fee caps that Justice recommended—2% and 10%. His legislation has support from the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin—a long-time trial-lawyer protector—objected, claiming caps would deny Camp Lejeune victims “good lawyers.” Mr. Durbin continues to block changes.
This is a scandal in plain sight, and it’s also an indictment of rushed bipartisan governance. The $667 billion PACT Act was rife with problems, yet Democrats brought it up shortly before the election and dared Republicans to oppose veterans’ benefits. The GOP was aware of the tort-lawyer loophole, but 34 Republicans in the House and 34 in the Senate voted for the PACT Act anyway. Taxpayers and Marines are paying the price, and the GOP shouldn’t rest until they’ve fixed this trial-lawyer ripoff.
Click here to read the full editorial.
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