Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

No Immunity for Weapons Maker in Fatal Explosion

Courthouse News

CN) – Weapons maker General Dynamics may be liable after an accidental explosion in an Army training exercise killed one soldier and injured three others, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
After a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against General Dynamics, the company claimed it was entitled to immunity as a government defense contractor.
But the federal appeals court in San Francisco denied the appeal, finding that the government contractor defense does not confer immunity, and that the weapons maker can’t appeal the denial of summary judgment based on disputed facts.
Martin Marietta Aluminum Sales, a predecessor of the Virginia-based General Dynamics, manufactured the mortar cartridge, which exploded prematurely at the Hawaii training camp in 2006.
The explosion killed Staff Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez and injured Samuel Oyola-Perez, Julius Riggins and Wilfredo Dayandante.
Experts testified in federal court that the 81mm mortar cartridge may have gone off during the live-fire exercise because of material defects or because the mortar was double-loaded.
In dismissing General Dynamic’s appeal, the three-judge appellate panel ruled that “the government contractor defense is not a grant of immunity and that the district court denied summary judgment on the basis of a disputed issue of material fact.”
The government contractor defense applies only to a strict set of circumstances, specifically when the government has set precise specifications for the contractor and it’s clear that the equipment meets those specifications, according to the ruling.
“Here, there is no proof to establish as a matter of law that the equipment conformed to the government’s precise specifications,” Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote. “In fact, the plaintiffs’ expert determined that the premature explosion was caused by a defect in the cartridge body, voiding or cracking in the high explosive filling, or a foreign body in the high explosive filling. This evidence could allow a finding of noncompliance with the government’s precise specifications.”
Callahan added that even if the panel treated the government contractor defense as a claim of qualified immunity, it lacks jurisdiction to “review an interlocutory appeal of a denial of qualified immunity.”
“Here, the district court’s denial of summary judgment rested on its finding that there is a disputed issue of material fact as to whether the cause of the explosion was double loading, a defect in the cartridge at the manufacturing stage, or some other cause,” she wrote.
“This ruling raises factual issues, rather than legal questions, and thus would not be reviewable on interlocutory appeal.”
The panel dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. General Dynamics’ request that the court treat the appeal as a petition for an extraordinary writ of mandamus also failed, as the company could not “make the type of extraordinary showing required” for the court to do so.  Please see the original report here

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight, Legal Jurisdictions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The cost of security for Americans who stay in Iraq when troops leave will be high

By Walter Pincus at The Washington Post

Most U.S. troops have departed Iraq, and the remaining 50,000 American forces are due to leave by the end of next year, but the country remains a dangerous place – at least State Department and Pentagon officials believe so.

State has plans to move about 600 employees now living in Baghdad into barracks to be built within the new embassy complex there. Why? “The imminent departure of the military from Iraq and the associated return of property and facilities to the government of Iraq, including a substantial amount of housing, makes the timely construction of the building important to the continued operation of the embassy,” State Department officials said in an August memo explaining the need to get funding rapidly for the barracks building. It is set to cost almost $70 million to construct.

Those officials also said it is “highly likely that the security situation in Baghdad may deteriorate to the point where any other housing would be deemed to be too unsafe and the personnel would not be able to remain in Baghdad.”

A State Department inspector general report released last month offers a sense of what it is like for employees at the embassy. It refers to “severe restrictions on the movement of mission personnel” because of the city’s dangers. It also says the potential for attacks is complicating meetings with Iraqi officials and makes “reaching out to ordinary Iraqi citizens all but impossible.”

In that same memo, the officials noted that the embassy compound itself “is being subjected to lethal indirect fire on a daily basis as the result of increasing political instability in Iraq and the general deterioration in the security situation.”

Noting that one contractor was killed and 15 others wounded in such an attack in July, the officials said it is “highly likely that the security situation will further deteriorate leading up to and after the U.S. military leaves Iraq at the end of 2011.”

A State Department travel warning on Iraq, issued Nov. 5, states that while there are fewer incidents, “violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions, including explosions, kidnappings, and other terrorist and criminal attacks.” It points out that attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the embassy is located, and northern Iraq.

Back in June, State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had approximately 2,700 private contract security personnel in Iraq, 1,800 of whom provided guard service for the embassy and other facilities within the Green Zone, according to a public statement by Charlene R. Lamb, State’s deputy assistant secretary for international programs with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. In October, the contract for providing the embassy guards, valued at about $200 million a year, was awarded to SOC-SMG Inc. of Las Vegas.  Please read more here

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Iraq, Private Military Contractors, Private Security Contractor, Safety and Security Issues, State Department, USACE, USAID | , , , | Leave a comment