The Supreme Court last Tuesday declined petition for certiorari involving three appeals filed by military contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root (“KBR”). KBR claimed the three lawsuits against them on behalf of injured servicemen should be thrown out because KBR was operating as an extension of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. The High Court denied review and left intact a group of federal appeals court rulings allowing the lawsuits against KBR – including the Burn Pit multi district litigation – to go forward.
One of the lawsuits charged KBR with negligent homicide and was brought by the family of a U.S. Staff Sergeant. The Sergeant died at a military barrack in Iraq after suffering an electrocution while attempting to shower. Investigators discovered KBR failed to ensure the electrical work was performed by qualified electricians and plumbers.
A second suit was brought by a group of soldiers who suffered chronic illnesses and even death after prolonged exposure to hazardous smoke from an open-air “burn pit” designed to disintegrate waste. The burned material included asbestos, human remains, lithium batteries, tires, trucks, and more. The ruling will allow the multi district litigation involving burn pit claims to move forward.
The third lawsuit involved National Guard soldiers exposed to sodium dichromate while serving at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in southern Iraq. Jurors in Oregon have previously found KBR guilty of negligence in the poisoning of these soldiers and ordered the company pay $85 million in damages. Jurors determined KBR knew both of the presence and toxicity of sodium dichromate at the soldier’s work site. In all, more than 800 U.S. servicemen provided security for KBR contractors and were all exposed to chemicals like hexavalent chromium, causing significant health issues in the years since. Mike Doyle was lead attorney in this case.
Following the High Court’s determination, U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Gilmore set a Status Conference for a case similar to that of the Oregon National Guard. The conference takes place February 20, 2015.
The Supreme Court’s rejection of KBR’s efforts to further delay justice for the American and coalition forces injured overseas will allow this litigation to proceed toward trial.