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KBR: Tax payers should foot the bill for our negligence

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Cashou

Iraq: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Cashou

By Greta McClain for Digital Journal

Jan 9, 2013

After being found guilty of negligence in the poisoning of at least a dozen US soldiers deployed in Iraq, KBR is insisting that US tax payers foot the bill for damages.
In November of 2012, an Oregon Federal Court awarded $85 million to twelve Oregon National Guard members who stated they were exposed to a known carcinogen at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq in 2003. The Nation Guard soldiers were stationed at the facility to guard against attack from insurgents.During the trial, court documents showed that the facility, operated by KBR Incorporated, stored massive quantities of Sodium dichromate dihydrate, a material known to cause cancer, as well as causing damage to the kidneys, liver, heart and upper respiratory tract. The documents further showed that KBR was fully aware that the material was housed at the facility and being used to keep water pipes from corroding. KBR had previously contended that it was unaware that the toxic chemicals were stored or being used at the facility.At the time of the ruling, Geoffrey Harrison, attorney for KBR, claimed the plaintiff’s lawyer used a “discredited” medical expert who presented “unsupported medical opinions” that each soldier had suffered “invisible, cellular-level injuries as a result of their exposure to hexavalent chromium.” Harrison further stated that he planned to appeal the court’s decision.Despite Harrison’s claims, a Reuters report stated that KBR’s own documents noted that there was a “serious health problem” at Qarmat Ali and that “almost 60% of the people now exhibit the symptoms” of sodium dichromate exposure.Nearly a month after the verdict was rendered, KBR lawyers argued that the verdict was invalid due to juror misconducted, stating

“{There are} clear indications this jury was exposed to extraneous information or ex parte contacts [contacts from the plaintiffs’ attorneys only]. These circumstances are evidence of juror misconduct that may warrant a new trial. This Court should allow KBR to conduct voluntary interviews of the members of the jury to determine whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary.”

The KBR attorneys further contend that jurors could have “Googled” information on Qarmat Ali and used that information in forming their verdict instead of the evidence presented in court testimony. The federal judge disagreed however, saying:

“evidence was presented at trial from which a finder of fact could reasonably have concluded that KBR was aware of the likely presence of sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali prior to beginning operations there.”

Having failed to convince a jury that they were not liable, and failing to have the verdict overturned due to perceived juror misconduct, KBR is now arguing that when the company agreed to work as a contractor for the U.S. government, an indemnity agreement was signed protecting KBR from legal liability. That agreement, according to KBR, means the federal government, not the company, is responsible for payment of the $85 million judgement, as well as the $15 million KBR has spent to defend itself in the lawsuit.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at least partially disagrees with KBR, saying the litigation costs are not covered by the indemnity agreement.If KBR is successful in its latest claim, it could mean that the American tax payers will be responsible for paying out the $85 million dollar judgement. Michael Doyle, a Houston-based lawyer, told the Huffington Post that the indemnity clause basically says:

“No matter if {they’re} guilty of — willful misconduct, poisoning soldiers — taxpayers have to pay to cover {KGB}. That’s a pretty good bailout.”

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