Oregon Live November 2, 1012
A Portland jury found defense contractor KBR Inc. was negligent, but did not commit fraud against a dozen Oregon Army National Guard soldiers who sued the company for its conduct in Iraq nine years ago. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak announced the decision about 3:35 p.m. the U.S. Courthouse in Portland. Each soldier was awarded $850,000 in non-economic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages.
“It’s a little bit of justice,” said Guard veteran Jason Arnold, moments after the verdict was announced Friday afternoon. Arnold was one of four of the soldier-plaintiffs in the courtroom was the verdict was read.
The verdict should send an important message to those who rely on military troops, he said.
“We’re not disposable,” said another soldier, Aaron St. Clair. “People are not going to make money from our blood.”
KBR’s lead attorney, Geoffrey Harrison, said the company will appeal.
“We will appeal the jury’s incorrect verdict,” he said. “We believe the trial court should have dismissed the case before the trial.”
Harrison said the soldiers’ lawyers produced a medical expert, Dr. Arch Carson, who offered “unsupported, untested medical opinions” that each soldier had suffered invisible, cellular-level injuries as a result of their exposure to hexavalent chromium.
The verdict means the jury did not hear clear and convincing evidence that KBR intended to deceive the soldiers in the way it operated at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant, near Basra, Iraq. But they did find that the company failed to meet its obligations in managing the work at the plant.
Friday’s verdict closes the first phase of a web of litigation between National Guard and British troops against KBR Inc., the defense contractor they accuse of knowingly exposing them in 2003 to a carcinogen at Qarmat Ali. KBR has denied the accusations.
In Oregon another set of Oregon soldiers are waiting in the wings for their day in court. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak and the attorneys agreed earlier to hold an initial trial with the first 12 soldiers, in order to keep the proceedings from becoming too unwieldy. A second trial, featuring all or some of the remaining 21 plaintiffs, could begin in federal court in Portland this winter.
Another lawsuit brought by Indiana soldiers against KBR is on hold in federal court in Texas, while an appeals court considers a jurisdictional issue.
The cases stem from the chaotic aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Army Corps of Engineers hired KBR Inc. to run a massive program called Restore Iraqi Oil. The program involved dozens of sites throughout Iraq — sites that neither the Army nor KBR had visited before the invasion. The project was intended to quickly restore the flow of Iraq’s oil, partly to fund the war. The Pentagon remembered the way Saddam Hussein had lit the fields on fire during the first Gulf War, and feared a repeat in 2003.
Qarmat Ali was a compound where water was pumped underground to drive oil to the surface elsewhere. For decades, Iraqis had treated the water with sodium dichromate, an anticorrosion agent that contains hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. (Sodium dichromate is banned in the United States.)
Iraq’s Southern Oil Co. took delivery of sodium dichromate, an orange-yellow crystalline powder, in bags that were stored on site. Soldiers and others testified that the material was loose and drifting around the site, and had contaminated areas even outside the chemical injection building where it was added to the water.
How contaminated was it? Accounts differ. Even one of the plaintiffs in this case said he didn’t notice any soil discoloration. One of the British soldiers whose testimony was prerecorded said it was everywhere. Another Oregon soldier said it settled heavily on the clothing of the soldiers, who unwittingly carried it back to their camps over the border in Kuwait.
Much of KBR’s defense in the first Oregon trial focused on just how unlikely it was that any soldier — who visited the plant at durations from one day to 21 days — could have been exposed to dangerously high levels of sodium dichromate. But one of the most gripping portions of the testimony was when Oregon veteran Larry Roberta described eating a chicken patty that had been coated with the orange crystals, which he said immediately burned in his esophagus, causing him to vomit.
Roberta now is confined to a wheelchair and takes oxygen from a tank in his backpack. He had a history of gastrointestinal issues, but attributes much of his poor health to his time at Qarmat Ali.
Harrison, KBR’s lawyer, said the company “believes in the judicial process and respects the efforts and time of the jurors,” but believes the process that brought the case to conclusion Friday shouldn’t have been allowed to come so far.
“KBR did safe and exceptional work in Iraq under difficult circumstances,” he said in a brief, prepared statement. “We believe the facts and law ultimately will provide vindication.”
Soldier-plaintiff Arnold said the message of the verdict is unmistakable. He said service members are being exploited “to this day.”
Now, he said, “the voice will be out. There will be a lot more scrutiny.”
Oregon Live June 26, 2012
It’s not clear who’s going to pay legal costs for defense contractor KBR Inc., which is being sued by National Guard soldiers who accuse the company of knowingly exposing them to a carcinogen.
While the company persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to write an indemnification clause into its 2003 contract to restore the flow of Iraq’s oil, the Corps has twice refused KBR’s request to cover its costs in the two lawsuits proceeding against it in Oregon and Texas.
Lawyers for KBR say they believe the company is entitled to have its expenses covered by taxpayers but is proceeding through the litigation in the meantime at its own risk and expense, said Geoffrey Harrison of the Houston firm of Susman, Godfrey. The company expects to challenge the Corps’ denial “maybe at the end of the case,” he said.
The Oregonian May 22, 2012
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is calling for the Department of Defense to investigate “excessive” expenses of the legal team of defense contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root, granted special indemnity for its contract in Iraq.
Wyden’s sharply worded letter sent Wednesday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta comes after recent investigations into KBR’s legal team uncovered costs that included attorneys bills of $750 per hour, numerous first-class flights and paying one expert more than $500,000 for testimony and consultation who admitted billing for time spent sleeping.
A lawsuit against KBR was brought by a group of Oregon Army National Guard assigned to provide security in 2003 for KBR personnel claims KBR management knew that the soldiers were being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals while working at a water treatment plant in Qarmat Ali.
The Pentagon legally covers dozens of military contractors doing dangerous jobs at home, such as making anthrax vaccine or disposing of mustard gas. The details of the immunity emerged in 2010 in a court case in Portland. It releases KBR from all financial liability for misconduct and allows KBR to pass all legal costs to the U.S. government.
“Essentially, KBR was handed a blank check with the Pentagon’s signature, and it seems clear to me that they intend to run up the bill as much as possible before cashing that check,” Wyden wrote in the letter.
Under KBR’s contract, the government has the ability to direct KBR’s legal defense and require it to settle with Oregon Guard, according to Wyden
KTVL TV 10 Portland Associated Press April 4, 2012
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A military contractor knew an Iraqi water treatment plant’s lax environmental standards let a toxic chemical contaminate the area, but never disclosed it to Oregon National Guard soldiers who were sickened, the soldiers said in a complaint filed Wednesday.
The complaint in U.S. District Court in Oregon alleges Kellogg, Brown and Root knew about the presence of sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant months before the date they originally gave in testimony and depositions.
A message left Wednesday for KBR was not immediately returned.
Sodium dichromate is an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer.
The soldiers, suffering from myriad respiratory problems, migraines and lung issues, sued KBR in June 2009.
The company acknowledged the presence of sodium dichromate in July 2003; a former employee later revealed an email to his managers that showed the company knew of the chemical in June 2003.
But the report uncovered by the soldiers’ attorneys points to KBR knowing about the presence of sodium dichromate in January 2003.
The soldiers say they only learned of the alleged misrepresentation in late February, after a Department of Defense inspector general investigation directed them to a 2002 KBR assessment of the plant.
Attorneys for the soldiers called the company’s earlier explanation “deliberate, calculated concealment,” according to the complaint. Guard soldiers from Oregon, Indiana and West Virginia who provided security at the Qarmat Ali water plant are involved in suits against KBR.
War profiteering has never been so profitable for the wrongdoer and so dangerous for our troops and the taxpayer. Please sign my petition (SIGN HERE)
More than 200 soldiers are suing KBR for knowingly exposing them to toxic chemicals in Iraq, whose effects started with nose bleeds and could end with cancer. KBR says that didn’t happen. But even if it did, the company isn’t responsible. Taxpayers are.
even if KBR is found liable, an indemnity clause in the company’s contract means that it won’t have to cover legal costs. There’s a reason both KBR and the Army wanted a last-minute addition to the contract to remain classified for as long as possible: It indemnifies KBR for any soldier’s on-site injury or death — even if due to the company’s willful misconduct.
The Houston Press February 15, 2012
Larry Roberta, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard, sat on a stack of sacks brimming with one of the most carcinogenic chemicals known to man and chomped on his chicken patty.
Unsuccessful in his mission to swap his rations with any of the British soldiers, who were stocked with heavenly corned beef hash and chocolate pudding, he braved the mystery meat’s gooey coating while keeping an eye on the contractors’ trailer a few yards away. While the Kellogg Brown & Root guys ate inside the trailer, Roberta could’ve taken lunch in one of the vehicles, but he figured vehicles were prime targets for any insurgents or Saddam loyalists who might be scouring the area. Better to suffer the hundred-plus-degree heat.
To Roberta’s knowledge, the chicken patty, with its gooey coating, was the only toxic substance he was currently in contact with. The sand around the sacks was mixed with a dark-orange, crystalline powder, but it didn’t faze him — the entire water-injection facility he was guarding was filthy with chemical residue.
The facility, Qarmat Ali, was a sprawling, approximately 50-acre plant where chemically treated water was pumped deep underground to maintain balance in the reservoirs while the oil was extracted. The plant had already felt the pains from years of U.N. sanctions before looters descended like human twisters in early spring and ran away with whatever wasn’t bolted down, and much of what was, knocking out electricity and leaving some buildings as mere husks. One building was littered with human feces; exposed machinery was coated with sludge and sand and colored powders.
Defense Department Inspector General says KBR and the military failed to respond quickly to health risks posed to Oregon soldiers
The OregonianSeptember 28, 2011
The Defense Department and contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root failed to act as quickly as they should have to protect those exposed to a carcinogenic chemical at an Iraqi water treatment plant in 2003, according to a report Wednesday by the Defense Department’s Inspector General.
The report was hailed as a victory for Oregon soldiers by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who was one of a group of senators who sought the IG’s evaluation, and by Oregon National Guard troops who are among those suing KBR. They accuse the contractor of knowingly exposing them to sodium dichromate, an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer.
Because KBR “did not fully comply with occupational safety and health standards required” under its contract with the Army, the Inspector General found, “a greater number of Service members and DoD civilian employees were exposed to sodium dichromate, and for longer periods, increasing the potential for chronic health effects.”
The report found that “nearly 1,000 Army soldiers and civilian employees were exposed to the compound in the five months it took from the initial site visit until the military command required personal protective equipment.”
“To me, the bottom line is this report confirms what Oregon soldiers and I have been saying for years,” said Wyden. “KBR and the military command failed to protect soldiers from a known threat.”
Houston-based KBR couldn’t be reached for comment before deadline. KBR has previously denied knowingly exposing soldiers or contractors to health risks.
Rocky Bixby of Tualatin, the former Oregon National Guard soldier who is listed as the first plaintiff in the suit against KBR, said Wednesday afternoon that he hadn’t yet seen the report, but is “obviously happy.”
“I’m just happy that the government is making a stand on this and protecting its troops,” said Bixby, who says he continues to suffer breathing difficulties that started after he helped secure the plant where KBR was working to restore water service.
The 56-page report also faults the military’s handling of the work at Qarmat Ali, from the vague wording of its initial contract to its failure to monitor the contractor’s compliance with its terms
AN Iraq War veteran from Skegby has spoken of his fear he may develop cancer as a result of the deadly chemicals he was exposed to while serving in Basra.
Cpl Jon Caunt (35) undertook five tours of Iraq between 2003 and 2007 when he and other members of the RAF Regiment were exposed to a distinctive orange powder at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant.
British troops, who were working alongside US forces and staff from private contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), did not know the orange powder was in fact Sodium Dichromate, which contains a cancer-causing compound.
It is banned in many countries and had been used to stop pipes rusting.
The soldiers were responsible for restoring the plant so Iraqi people could resume oil production in a bid to rebuild their economy after the war – but they had no protection from the chemical and would often sleep on the ground surrounded by it.
Cpl Caunt said: “You have got to understand that we were breathing it in, we were firing in it and it was blown up by the wind – this stuff was everywhere.”
It was only when he was later contacted by Sgt Andy Tosh and underwent a medical examination in April this year that he became aware of the serious threat the exposure had to his health.
He said: “Until I went for the medical, I did not realise how serious it was. When I got the results back, I did not want to look at them.”
Cpl Caunt’s medical revealed he already had the symptoms of several diseases, including respiratory, stomach and skin diseases.
“I have had skin complaints for a while, but I just dismissed it and never really thought anything of it until this came up,” he said
In the ongoing legal battle being waged by several State National Guard Units, this video is pretty typical of what I’ve seen of KBR testimony about the role they played in exposing US and British soldiers, US and local civilians to deadly hexavalent chromium at Qarmat Ali. You can watch more disturbing deposition testimony HERE. I am listing the people giving depositions in the order they appear in this DoyleRaizner video.
As far as I’m concerned, someone or several someones need to be going to prison for murder, assault and treason!
1. K.T. Tseng – KBR engineer who led team conducting April 2003 environmental/safety assessment of Qarmat Ali – Testimony from :53-2:29 of video
2. Ralph Stephenson – Former Corporate Health Safety & Environmental (HSE) Manager – Testimony from 2:45-3:16 of video
3. Mary Wade – KBR Chief Contract Negotiator – Testimony from 3:20-6:08 of video
4. Chris Heinrich – KBR Contract Attorney – Testimony from 6:09-7:00 of video
5. Jack Alvarez – KBR Head of Security – Testimony from 7:19-8:03 of video
6. Young Lee – KBR Environmental Engineering Manager – Testimony 8:08-8:42 of video
7. Mary Wade – KBR Chief Contract Negotiator – Testimony from 8:49-9:46 of video
8. Lt. Col. James Gentry – Former Commander of the Indiana National Guard – Testimony from 9:47-10:52 – Lt. Col James Gentry, 52 died on November 25, 2009 of his illness contracted from exposure to hexavalent chromium at Qarmat Ali.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Magistrate Paul Papak told attorneys to prepare for trial, even as he considers whether the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals should review his rulings so far.
Attorneys for Kellogg, Brown and Root seek an unusual appeal of Papak’s early decisions. They claim that suing a battlefield contractor for the U.S. military raises “unprecedented” legal questions that should be decided by the higher court first. Other federal judges have ruled in KBR’s favor in suits in Indiana and West Virginia, saying their courts lack jurisdiction.
The Oregon judge twice has rejected those arguments.
If the 9th agrees to hear the case, the process could delay a trial for years — or end the case outright.
Oregon Army National Guard vets sued KBR last year, claiming the company downplayed or disregarded hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. The soldiers say they were sickened by their exposure to the cancer-causing chemical.
Attorneys for the Oregon vets — about 34 are expected to be on the final case — say KBR is stalling.
“We just want to get these guys in court,” David Sugerman, of Portland, told the judge.
KBR attorney Jeffrey Eden, of Portland argued that “If we are correct and we end up in 24 months with a jury verdict and the 9th Circuit agrees with us, we have just wasted two years and countless resources.”
Veterans in West Virginia and Indiana refiled in Texas federal court and are scheduled for a May 2012 trial.
Papak said he will decide on the appeal shortly. But, he said the case should move forward in the meantime, and set deadlines for depositions and other evidence gathering.
Oregon has led the nation in its reaction to the exposure. Oregon lawmakers lobbied the Department of Veterans Affairs, which established a Qarmat Ali registry. They also filed the strongest bill yet to boost congressional oversight of defense contracts, revoke immunity for harm caused by a contractor’s misconduct and limit immunity in future agreements.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a Qarmat Ali registry to aggressively track and treat veterans exposed to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq in 2003.
The national surveillance program will register hundreds of National Guard members who served at the Qarmat Ali water- treatment plant, looking for health problems associated with hexavalent chromium exposure, such as asthma and lung cancer.
The monitoring is a victory for nearly 300 Oregon Army National Guard members and for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Wyden proposed such a registry March 22 after veterans with breathing and skin problems told him in an emotional meeting in Portland that VA staff did not understand the hazards of their assignment.
“This is a concrete step forward,” Wyden said. “But it is only a step.” He wants the VA to go further and presume a service connection that will increase access and benefits.
The program is more a medical monitoring program than a confirmation of health problems. The VA does not presume a veteran who served at Qarmat Ali is ill — nor that any specific diseases are linked to serving there.
But the Qarmat Ali Medical Surveillance program will standardize medical exams nationwide, focusing doctors’ attention on lung cancer and other related problems and help direct treatment. Among the steps: ear, nose, throat, lung and skin exams as well as regular chest X-rays, said Dr. Victoria Cassano, director of radiation and physical exposure for the VA’s Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards. Read the entire story here
by Julie Sullivan The Oregonian
American taxpayers — and not KBR– will likely pay if the war contractor is found to have harmed Oregon Army National Guard veterans who say they were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in Iraq. The startling details emerged in documents related to a U.S. District Court hearing Monday that illuminate the secretive world of defense contracting.
Documents show that within days of the 2003 Iraq invasion, Kellogg, Brown and Root delivered an ultimatum to the Pentagon:
Either the Army cover the potential cost of any soldier or civilian killed or harmed on a KBR project – or the defense contractor would not carry out its no-bid contract restoring Iraqi oil.
The Army agreed to it, according to a deposition given by a KRB attorney who delivered the ultimatum. The attorney added that KBR has also recently notified the Army that it will have to reimburse KBR for court and potential liability costs.
On Monday, attorneys representing the 26 current and former Oregon soldiers and those representing KBR argued nearly 80 minutes over whether the case should go forward in U.S. District Court in Oregon. KBR asked Magistrate Judge Paul Papak for a second time to dismiss the case, saying a private company doing the job of the military on the battlefield should receive the same envelope of protection the military does.
In 2009, Oregon National Guard troops sued the former Halliburton subsidiary claiming that managers downplayed or dismissed the presence hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing rust fighter. In 2003, U.S. and British troops had guarded KBR workers repairing a decrepit water-treatment plant near Basra used to maintain pressure in oil wells. Piles of the toxic orange-yellow powder stained the soil, water and walls of the critical Qarmat Ali plant.
Troops from four states and Britain later claimed they suffer health problems as a result. At least two who were exposed to the chemical have died of cancer. KBR defended itself by saying the Army was responsible for safety at the plant and that the soldiers were not there long enough to be risk of cancer. Exposure to 40 micrograms of hexavalent chromium per cubic meter — about the size of a grain of salt in about a cubic yard — has shown a high increase in lung cancer, stomach, brain, renal, bladder and bone cancers.
Judge Papak said he will decide quickly whether the case should proceed. But already the limited discovery Papak has allowed is being tracked by attorneys suing, or defending, KBR nationwide. More logistical support has been conducted by private companies in Iraq and Afghanistan than in any previous U.S. wars. Full Story here
May 19, 2010, 9:17PM
Oregon Army National Guard veterans suing the largest war contractor in Iraq today in federal court in Portland acknowledge they’re waging an improbable fight.
In February, the war contractor squashed a similar lawsuit by Indiana Guard who also claimed they were knowingly exposed to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq in 2003.
Last June, the war contractor even knocked out a suit by 10 of its former employees — the people Oregon troops were guarding.
The 21 Oregon veterans suing Kellogg, Brown and Root include a postal clerk, a security guard and a soldier just back from a second tour to Iraq where he guarded KBR convoys. The men say they suffer breathing, stomach and other health problems from being exposed to hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant.
They face a large and experienced defense team who’ve handled hundreds of personal injury claims filed against KBR since the invasion of Iraq over its burn pits, accidental electrocutions and alleged assaults.
On the vets’ team: one tall Texan and a Portland trial lawyer in a solo firm.
Houston attorney Michael Patrick Doyle, who’s won millions suing corporations for negligence, is working with David Sugerman, who’s taken class-action suits and consumer cases. They took the case on contingency. After months of unpaid work, one soldier felt so guilty he gave Sugerman the only bill in his wallet: an Iraqi dinar. Read the full story here
Attorneys for Kellogg, Brown & Root have filed a second motion to dismiss an Oregon Army National Guardsmen lawsuit against the war contractor, saying the Oregon court lacks jurisdiction over the federal government’s military and foreign policy decisions in wartime.
Friday’s filing comes three weeks after U.S. District Judge Magistrate Paul Papak denied an earlier motion to dismiss, ruling that the case should go forward.
Twenty-one current and former Oregon Army National Guard soldiers, mostly from the Portland area, are suing the Houston-based firm and four of its subsidiaries saying they were intentionally exposed to the cancer-causing chemical, hexavalent chromium after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Troops from Oregon, Indiana and West Virginia were ordered to guard KBR employees working to restore oil production in southern Iraq. Soldiers from all three states have filed lawsuits. They claim that at the Qarmat Ali water plant near Basra, KBR ignored and downplayed the health risks of a corrosion-fighter scattered across the facility that contained hexavalent chromium. Soldiers allege breathing, stomach and other health problems as a result. At least two soldiers, including one in Oregon, died of cancer after serving at the plant.
According to the 41-page memorandum, KBR attorneys wrote the firm won the Army Corps of Engineers’ contract to “Restore Iraqi Oil” 17 days before the United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. Restoring oil flow from the dilapidated and heavily looted Iraqi facilities was one of the United States’ most pressing goals, attorneys said. The circa-1970s water plant at Qarmat Ali was particularly important, as it provided the needed water pressure to all the oil wells across southern Iraq.
KBR attorneys Jeffrey Eden and Stephen Deatherage wrote that under its contract, KBR was not required to conduct an environmental assessment at Qarmat Ali. U.S. soldiers who did conduct an initial assessment shortly after the invasion noted the orange stains on the soil, but did not ask for further investigation. Instead, they recommended a new plant be built altogether.
The Corps of Engineers decided not to rebuild the plant, but rather repair it and decided not to conduct a full environmental assessment due to the wartime conditions.
KBR attorneys also said that the U.S. and British military, not KBR, were responsible for notifying soldiers of the potential exposure and determining whether and to what extent they were exposed.
The attorneys further claim that the same Federal Tort Claims Act which prevents individuals from suing the government in all but very limited circumstances, should apply to the contractor.
“KBR performing a common mission with the military under military command in a military theater.’
KBR has been barraged with lawsuits ranging from soldiers’ who claimed they were injured by burn pits the to families of drivers killed in Iraq.
The soldiers attorney, David Sugerman, vowed to go forward.
“We want Oregon soldiers to have their day in court.”
A hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. June 7 in federal court in Portland.