President Biden signed the Honoring Our PACT Act into law in August 2022. It grants servicemembers, their family members and others who were injured by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 the ability to sue the U.S. for health-related damages. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t include any caps on attorneys’ fees in the PACT Act, even though it is common in federal law to include them so injured parties get most of any compensation and taxpayer money is used wisely.
Fortunately, Reps. Darrell Issa and Mike Bost, as well as Sens. Dan Sullivan, Chuck Grassley, and Mitch McConnell, recently introduced the Protect Camp Lejeune Victims Ensnared by Trial Lawyers’ Scams (VETS) Act to limit the amount attorneys can charge veterans and families who file a Camp Lejeune-related lawsuit. The legislation would cap the amount of money plaintiffs’ lawyers can get at 12 percent from a settlement or 17 percent of an award won at trial.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers know there is big money to be made by filing these lawsuits. According to estimations, about one million individuals were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. As a result, as many as 500,000 claims could end up before the courts–giving these suits the potential to be one of the largest mass torts. That is why trial lawyers are targeting veterans and their families through mass advertising and marketing.
According to an article in Bloomberg Law, “A historic number of possible claimants and a new era in legal marketing have turned the Camp Lejeune tainted water litigation into a potential record-setter for the amount invested and spent on advertising. More than $145 million had been spent on television and social media advertising by year’s end, according to ad data reviewed by Bloomberg Law.”
The ads are ubiquitous and so misleading that some veteran advocacy groups are warning vets to be informed before signing up with an attorney.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have a financial incentive to file as many claims as possible—the more claims filed, the more money they can get through fees. But to add insult to injury, if the VETS Act isn’t enacted, some veterans may be in a worse financial position than if they hadn’t sued in the first place.
As is common practice, Congress included a “subrogation provision” in the PACT Act, which makes federal agencies the “payer of last resort.” This means veterans who sign up for a lawsuit and received various Medicare, Medicaid, or Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare-related payments for Camp Lejeune contamination-related diseases will have to pay back those costs out of any recovery they get. The lawyers will still get paid, though—and without any of the customary limits on their fees. And depending on how the math works out, the veterans could end up owing money at the end of the process because the lawyers would be taking such a large chunk of the award.
Capping attorneys’ fees will ensure victims of Camp Lejeune get the compensation they deserve. Congress should pass the VETS Act as quickly as possible.