After over a year of effort, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan welcomed news that the Department of Justice has instituted caps on the fees trial lawyers can charge in cases representing sick Marines and other individuals impacted by water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The fee limits, which will be applied to existing contracts regardless of the legal pathway a veteran or their family chooses, come after Sen. Sullivan pressed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about the issue during two phone conversations in the past two weeks.
Sen. Sullivan, , a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been fighting to cap lawyers’ fees in Camp Lejeune cases since introducing the Protect Camp Lejeune Victims Ensnared by Trial-lawyers’ Scams (VETS) Act.
Sullivan had pressed for caps of 12 percent for filing paperwork and 17 percent for going to trial. DOJ settled on caps that align with the Federal Tort Claims Act, which are 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
“In my eight years in the U.S. Senate, there are few issues I’ve been involved with that more desperately cry out for a just resolution. My Democratic colleagues fought hard to keep attorney’s fees caps out of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, with the predictable result of unscrupulous trial lawyers trying to grab sixty to seventy percent of the compensation owed to sick Marines and their families, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to lure Marines into these ultra-high contingency fee arrangements,” said Sen. Sullivan. “I’ve been fighting this injustice tooth and nail for over a year with legislation, unanimous consent requests on the Senate floor, and repeated engagement with the administration. I’m pleased to say, after several productive phone calls, the Attorney General agreed with me. I want to thank Attorney General Garland for doing the right thing, and the countless Marines and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) who courageously spoke out and demanded Congress and the administration fix this. While this is excellent news for the thousands of Americans who suffered after serving at Camp Lejeune, I am still concerned that the new caps are too high, given the fact that Congress reduced the burden of proof for these cases, making them significantly easier to win. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to advance my Protect Camp Lejeune VETS Actto set these caps at a just and reasonable level and maximize the compensation for the individuals who actually deserve it.”
Marines and impacted individuals can seek compensation as a result of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which became law in August 2022 in the larger Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. In May 2022, the Biden Justice Department provided technical guidance on the PACT Act, recommending the legislation cap attorney’s fees. 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 over a 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.
- On March 26, 2021, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was introduced in the House with attorney’s fees capped at the Federal Tort Claims Act level.
- On November 4, 2021, companion legislation to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was introduced in the Senate, but without attorney’s fees capped.
- On January 25, 2022, a new version of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was introduced in the House without attorney’s fees capped, aligning with the Senate version.
- On May 2, 2022, the Justice Department published technical assistance on the PACT Act that recommended including caps on attorney’s fees, “ensuring that the bulk of recovery in each case will go to the veterans themselves and not to their lawyers.”
- On August 10, 2022, President Biden signed the PACT Act into law, without caps on Camp Lejeune attorney’s fees.
- In October 2022, the American Legion passed a resolution asking Congress to pass legislation capping the Camp Lejeune attorneys’ fees.
- On November 11, 2022, Sen. Sullivan criticized some of his committee colleagues in an SVAC hearing for enabling predatory trial lawyers to take advantage of sick Marines and called on the committee to institute caps through legislation immediately.
- On November 30, 2022, Sens. Sullivan, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) attempted to passSullivan’s Protect Camp Lejeune VETS Act by unanimous consent, but the motion was blocked by Senate Democrats.
- On December 15, 2022, Sen. Sullivan spoke on the Senate floor about the Camp Lejeune issue.
- On February 10, 2023, Sens. Sullivan, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and nine other senators were joined by Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Mike Bost (R-Ill.) in re-introducing the Protect Camp Lejeune VETS Act in both the Senate and the House.
- On March 1, 2023, in a joint hearing of SVAC and the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Sullivan again called on his SVAC colleagues to institute caps.
- On March 6, 2023, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial on the topic titled, “The Camp Lejeune Lawsuit Racket.”
- On May 17, 2023, in an SVAC hearing, Sen. Sullivan again urged his committee colleagues to institute caps.
- On July 13, 2023, Sen. Sullivan filed his Protect Camp Lejeune VETS Act as an amendment to the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but it was blocked by Senate Democrats.
- In September 5, 2023, Sen. Sullivan and Rep. Issa sent a letter to the Navy requesting that they create an expedited and optional pathway for veterans and their families in order to settle Camp Lejeune cases faster.
- On September 6, 2023, Sen. Sullivan spoke with Attorney General Garland about the issue, reminding the attorney general that DOJ had strongly supported the inclusion of caps in its guidance on the PACT Act before it passed.
- On September 7, 2023, the Navy announced an optional pathway to expedite claims for veterans, following all of the requests included in Sen. Sullivan’s letter, but without attorney’s fees capped.
- On September 15, 2023, Attorney General Garland called Sen. Sullivan to inform him that DOJ would be instituting attorney’s fees caps in Camp Lejeune cases.
- On September 18, 2023, Sen. Sullivan spoke with Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonough and Navy Secretary Del Toro about coordinating an effort to communicate these new fee caps to Camp Lejeune victims and attorneys.