WASHINGTON — For what appears to be the first time, a former resident of Camp Lejeune, N.C., has been permitted to move ahead with a claim against the Marine Corps for years of water contamination that she says led to the development of her non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The U.S. Department of the Navy, which includes the Marines, this week lost its bid to dismiss the case of Laura J. Jones of Iowa, who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1980 to 1983 as the spouse of a Marine officer.
In 2005, more than two decades after she left North Carolina, Jones was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
According to her personal injury claim in federal court, Jones had never heard about the years of contamination that plagued the well water at Lejeune. She accuses the military of recklessly allowing families to drink toxic water and failing to warn residents about the contamination.
The Navy argued in the U.S. District Court in Raleigh that Jones had filed her civil suit beyond the statute of limitations.
And the Navy said regulations at the time didn't cover contaminants such as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene, and therefore the Marine Corps shouldn't be liable for them.
In a decision released Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle rejected those arguments.
He said the Navy was to blame in part for Jones' ignorance about the contamination. And he pointed out that the military didn't begin earnestly seeking victims until after Jones' diagnosis.
"The Department of the Navy's unwillingness to release information regarding contamination at Camp Lejeune or to provide notice to former residents remains relevant in that such conduct limited the information available to potential clients," Boyle wrote.
The Navy had argued that an Internet search on "lymphoma" and "Camp Lejeune" would have yielded early news stories about the contamination, according to the judge's order.
Boyle countered that there was no way Jones could have known to make such a query 20 years after leaving the base.
Boyle also agreed that federal regulations made clear in December 1972 that drinking water "shall not contain impurities which may be hazardous to the health of consumers."
The decision means the case can now move forward, said Joseph L. Anderson, a Winston-Salem, N.C., attorney who represented Jones and has heard from thousands of other potential victims at Lejeune.
The Navy could appeal the decision, but Anderson said he's preparing for the next phase of the case.
"We're grateful for the judge's decision and for the opportunity to represent these families," he said Wednesday.
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