ILNews

Soldiers sue contractor for toxic exposure in Iraq

Jennifer Nelson
December 4, 2008
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Sixteen members of Indiana National Guard have filed a lawsuit against a Texas-based contractor working in Iraq for exposing the soldiers to a toxic chemical known to increase the risk of developing cancer.

The plaintiffs, who were primarily deployed through a military company based in Tell City, Ind., filed Dec. 3 the federal lawsuit, Mark McManaway, et al. v. KBR, Inc., et al., No. 3:08-cv-0186, in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. The guardsmen worked at the Qarmat Ali water plant in southern Iraq for a six-month period in 2003 assisting KBR in restoring the water plant so it could resume pumping water into oil wells for a more consistent oil flow. The suit claims KBR downplayed and ignored the danger of the site contamination by sodium dichromate, a toxic chemical used at the water plant as an anti-corrosive that contains nearly pure hexavalent chromium.

Exposure to hexavalent chromium can increase a person's chance to develop various types of cancer and other illnesses. Several of the guardsmen have already become ill as a result of the exposure in 2003, including nasal cancers and rashes, said attorney David Cutshaw, partner at Cohen & Malad, who is representing the soldiers along with Doyle Raizner of Houston.

The soldiers claim they were repeatedly told by the company there was no danger on the site while they worked there, and that their bloody noses and skin lesions were a result of the dry desert air. It was later revealed the company knew of the danger as early as April 2003; the contaminated site was shut down in September 2003.

It wasn't until a congressional hearing in June 2008 did the government and U.S. Army learn how much KBR actually knew about the danger of exposure at the water plant and their ongoing cover-up of soldiers' exposure to the chemical.

In July, commander of the Indiana National Guard started locating and notifying the soldiers who worked at the water plant of their possible exposure to the chemical, Cutshaw said.

"The one thing that really got to me about this is (the soldiers) could have been receiving treatment for the last five years, but KBR has been hiding it," he said.

The suit alleges negligence and gross negligence on the part of KBR for failing to inform and protect the guardsmen from exposure to the hexavalent chromium. As a result of KBR's acts and omissions, the guardsmen are seeking compensation for their personal injuries and damages they currently have and will likely have in the future. The suit claims as a result of their exposure, the guardsmen have been exposed to a greater risk of severe injury or death and will need ongoing health care.

The applicable statute of limitations shouldn't apply in this case because KBR just a few months ago was still providing information to the U.S. Army that denied any knowledge of the site contamination until July 2003, the suit alleges.

Cutshaw said there are a reported 141 soldiers from the Indiana National Guard assigned to patrol the Qarmat Ali water plant, as well as soldiers from Scotland and Great Britain. He said he hadn't heard of any other suits dealing with this issue but thinks once more people learn about this suit, they could file their own or join this suit.

According to Cutshaw, KBR is currently involved in arbitration with KBR civilian employees who worked on the site regarding this issue and that arbitration is set to begin next week.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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