Military Contractors Refute Liability for Soldiers’ Disabilities

A military contractor sued by a group of Indiana National Guardsman is defending the suit by claiming they enjoy the same immunity that protects the federal government from such litigation. KBR Inc. was hired by the government to manage the clean up of a water treatment plant (Qarmat Ali) in Southern Iraq. The Indiana National Guardsman were tasked with providing the labor for the cleanup and now claim they were exposed to toxic chemicals which are causing them to now suffer from potentially fatal illnesses.

Unfortunately, the Guardsmen may well be left without legal recourse for their severe disabilities. Under the Supreme Court’s Feres Doctrine, the United States is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injuries to members of the armed forces sustained while on active duty resulting from the negligence of others in the armed forces. According to the case, compensation for free medical treatment and other stipends are in place to address such complaints. However, exceptions to the doctrine have been found where it has been determined that civilians could have been harmed in the same manner under the same circumstances in which the service member’s injuries occurred.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the Guardsmen started experiencing bloody noses during the cleanup mission. Bloody noses are said to be a “telltale symptom” of exposure to the chemical, sodium dichromate, which coated the site at Qarmat Ali. However, the Guardsman were told by KBR managers on the site that their bloody noses were from the dry desert air and caused by allergic reactions to sand. According to the Guardsmen’s suit, the KBR managers who inspected the site during the summer of 2003 (at approximately the same time the soldiers reported symptoms of poisoning) wore protective suits.

Read more about this lawsuit and the soldiers’ mission to get compensation for their injuries.

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