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KBR Loses Bid to Have Iraqi Court Hear Electrocution Suit

A federal judge has ruled against a motion by KBR to transfer to Iraq a lawsuit filed against the company. Survivors of Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret who was killed in Iraq in 2008 when he was electrocuted in a shower facility, had sued the military contractor for negligence.

District Judge Nora Fischer for the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, denied KBR’s motion to transfer the case to Iraq, but did not rule on whether the case should be transferred elsewhere in the United States.

KBR’s attempt to move the case is the only the latest example of a military contractor’s attempt to transfer a case against it to an Islamic country. Blackwater AWS lost its attempt to transfer the claims arising from the crash of a charter flight because Islamic law would not hold a company liable for the acts of its employees.

Doyle LLP represents persons injured by the negligence of military contractors. The firm is currently engaged in litigation against KBR on behalf of members of the U.S. National Guard and the British Royal Air Force.

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Congress Passes Bill Requiring Disclosure of Military Contractor Immunity

Earlier this week, Congress passed a new defense approprations bill. Included is a key amendment designed to promote greater transparency in the government’s dealings with military contractors.

Under the new terms, the military is required to inform both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee when signing contracts granting military contractors immunity from liability.

The goal of the bill is to force greater transparency in the Pentagon’s dealings with contractors, particularly in light of the military’s contract with KBR, which attempted to give KBR immunity from various aspects of its operations during the Iraq War.

Doyle represents U.S. and U.K. servicemen harmed by exposure to sodium dichromate (hexavalent chromium) after being contracted by KBR to monitor its Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility in Iraq. Litigation in this case is still ongoing in Oregon and Texas.

More information on the bill is available here.

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KBR’s attempt to silence www.kbrlitigation.com blocked

Today the ICANN Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution panel rejected KBR’s attempt to silence www.kbrlitigation.com, the public information site maintained for the Qarmat Ali vets and public to stay informed about the KBR Qarmat Ali litigation.  Although literally dozens of sites used “KBR” and various combinations, KBR chose to pursue a claim to shut down www.kbrlitgation.com.  In finding that the domain name would “clearly represent a nominative fair use of Complainant’s /KBR’s/ mark”, the panel’s decision bolsters free speech and transparency on the web.

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Court of Appeals sends case for electrocution of Texas soldier back for trial

Overturning the New Orleans federal district court’s dismissal before any investigation into the merits, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded for trial the legal action filed by the parents of Texas National Guardsman Sgt. Chris Everett, electrocuted while serving at Camp Taqaddum in Iraq in September 2005.

The case was filed by Doyle LLP for Sgt. Everett’s mother, Larraine McGee, and father, Patrick Everett, after they eventually discovered from media coverage of US Senate investigations that his death, along with that of a number of other servicemen electrocuted at bases in Iraq, was due to improper electrical work by unqualified or untrained employees of civilian American military contractors. Louisiana-based Arkel International, LLC, an electrical subcontractor of military contractor KBR, was responsible for service and maintenance on electrical equipment at the camp, and Sgt. Everett was fatally injured when he received an electrical shock while using a power washer. Unknown to Sgt. Everett, the generator at the wash station was improperly grounded, causing him to be electrocuted. The Fifth Circuit’s opinion sends the case for the family of Sgt. Everett back to the district court for full discovery and trial evaluation of the facts and circumstances of Sgt. Everett’s unnecessary and untimely death.

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Post KBR Trial and Verdict Update

After several weeks of an informal, partial gag order entered at the request of KBR shortly before the verdict was delivered, we are now able to comment more fully on the verdict, the full facts of the case, and other developments in the fight for the Qarmat Ali veterans.  As was widely reported, on November 2, 2012, an Oregon jury unanimously returned an $85 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the first lawsuit  for KBR’s misconduct at Qarmat Ali.  This first trial pitted 12 US National Guard veterans against defense contractor KBR, and the twelve jurors not only found KBR liable for negligence in causing harm to these men, but also confirmed by “clear and convincing evidence” that KBR was guilty of “reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and conscious indifference to the health, safety, and welfare” of our troops.

The facts of the trial were simple: KBR promised the Army’s Corp of Engineers it would repair a the Qarmat Ali water injection treatment plant in southern Iraq and that KBR’s “subject-matter expertise” would allow it to fully evaluate and safely repair the facility.  Unfortunately, instead KBR knowingly exposed the military personnel providing security and the other personnel working at Qarmat Ali to massive levels of sodium dichromate present at the site after decades of use by the Iraqis as an anti-corrosive. The soldiers returned home to face medical issues ranging from respiratory dysfunction, persistent skin rashes, and even cancer. The commander of one of the National Guard units, Lt. Col. James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard, died of cancer attributed to the exposure in Iraq, and one of his men also died from lung disease attributed in part to his exposure at KBR’s Qarmat Ali project.

The damages received by the each of the 12 plaintiffs included actual damages of $850,000 and $6.25 million in punitive damages, totalling $85 million for this first group of veterans to go to trial. To read the jury’s final decision and damage amounts, click here- Final verdict decisions amounts.

There are 150 more plaintiffs,either veterans or their surviving family members, awaiting their day in court against KBR. This trial confirmed that each of the veterans exposed at Qarmat Ali, with varying current health conditions, sustained at least $7.1 million in compensable damages. Altogether, this has the potential to impact KBR at least more than $1.1 billion in ongoing verdict decisions, if this precedent continues.

And in typical KBR fashion, the next step after the verdict was rendered was not one of accepting responsibility, finally, but instead continue blame avoidance and misdirection. KBR struck out against the trial judge for the temerity of even permitting a public trial of KBR’s actions, the jurors for not baldly accepting KBR’s version of the facts, and our firm and clients. Not once did the company ever own up to their mistakes. Without the slightest legitimate basis for impugning the trial court or the jurors, KBR instead demanded an exception from the court’s rules for juror protection, insisting on an unsupervised “interview” by its lawyers or trial consultant of each juror to find out why such a verdict was placed in the soldiers favor.  The judge rejected this demand, finding that it was unsupported and unjustified.

KBR also within two weeks of the verdict sued the US government to compel the government to pay the verdict and any other damages found for KBR’s knowing misconduct, as well as for reimbursement of the bloated legal, expert witness, and other charges KBR has incurred avoiding accountability in the veterans’ legal case. Click here to read the pleading- KBR lawsuit for full bailout against government. Coincidentally, shortly before the suit was filed, the government sued KBR for inflated billing in its work in Iraq. Click here to read that lawsuit.

We’re pleased KBR’s attempt to pursue these jurors for simply doing their sworn duty was denied. For almost an entire month, these jurors honored their civic obligations and diligently considered all the evidence presented. They were given a task and made the decision they felt was the one required to deliver justice to a group of individuals unnecessarily exposed to toxins while protecting our freedom and serving their country. We are also grateful for the senators and representatives who have stepped forward on these soldiers’ behalf and spoken out against a corporation that has proven many times by its actions how little it values human lives over massive profits.

We stand by our clients as we move forward with the remaining trials, continuing to believe strongly that Justice will prevail.

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