After several weeks of an informal, partial gag order entered at the request of KBR shortly before the verdict was delivered, we are now able to comment more fully on the verdict, the full facts of the case, and other developments in the fight for the Qarmat Ali veterans. As was widely reported, on November 2, 2012, an Oregon jury unanimously returned an $85 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the first lawsuit for KBR’s misconduct at Qarmat Ali. This first trial pitted 12 US National Guard veterans against defense contractor KBR, and the twelve jurors not only found KBR liable for negligence in causing harm to these men, but also confirmed by “clear and convincing evidence” that KBR was guilty of “reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and conscious indifference to the health, safety, and welfare” of our troops.
The facts of the trial were simple: KBR promised the Army’s Corp of Engineers it would repair a the Qarmat Ali water injection treatment plant in southern Iraq and that KBR’s “subject-matter expertise” would allow it to fully evaluate and safely repair the facility. Unfortunately, instead KBR knowingly exposed the military personnel providing security and the other personnel working at Qarmat Ali to massive levels of sodium dichromate present at the site after decades of use by the Iraqis as an anti-corrosive. The soldiers returned home to face medical issues ranging from respiratory dysfunction, persistent skin rashes, and even cancer. The commander of one of the National Guard units, Lt. Col. James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard, died of cancer attributed to the exposure in Iraq, and one of his men also died from lung disease attributed in part to his exposure at KBR’s Qarmat Ali project.
The damages received by the each of the 12 plaintiffs included actual damages of $850,000 and $6.25 million in punitive damages, totalling $85 million for this first group of veterans to go to trial. To read the jury’s final decision and damage amounts, click here- Final verdict decisions amounts.
There are 150 more plaintiffs,either veterans or their surviving family members, awaiting their day in court against KBR. This trial confirmed that each of the veterans exposed at Qarmat Ali, with varying current health conditions, sustained at least $7.1 million in compensable damages. Altogether, this has the potential to impact KBR at least more than $1.1 billion in ongoing verdict decisions, if this precedent continues.
And in typical KBR fashion, the next step after the verdict was rendered was not one of accepting responsibility, finally, but instead continue blame avoidance and misdirection. KBR struck out against the trial judge for the temerity of even permitting a public trial of KBR’s actions, the jurors for not baldly accepting KBR’s version of the facts, and our firm and clients. Not once did the company ever own up to their mistakes. Without the slightest legitimate basis for impugning the trial court or the jurors, KBR instead demanded an exception from the court’s rules for juror protection, insisting on an unsupervised “interview” by its lawyers or trial consultant of each juror to find out why such a verdict was placed in the soldiers favor. The judge rejected this demand, finding that it was unsupported and unjustified.
KBR also within two weeks of the verdict sued the US government to compel the government to pay the verdict and any other damages found for KBR’s knowing misconduct, as well as for reimbursement of the bloated legal, expert witness, and other charges KBR has incurred avoiding accountability in the veterans’ legal case. Click here to read the pleading- KBR lawsuit for full bailout against government. Coincidentally, shortly before the suit was filed, the government sued KBR for inflated billing in its work in Iraq. Click here to read that lawsuit.
We’re pleased KBR’s attempt to pursue these jurors for simply doing their sworn duty was denied. For almost an entire month, these jurors honored their civic obligations and diligently considered all the evidence presented. They were given a task and made the decision they felt was the one required to deliver justice to a group of individuals unnecessarily exposed to toxins while protecting our freedom and serving their country. We are also grateful for the senators and representatives who have stepped forward on these soldiers’ behalf and spoken out against a corporation that has proven many times by its actions how little it values human lives over massive profits.
We stand by our clients as we move forward with the remaining trials, continuing to believe strongly that Justice will prevail.
For a day-to-day trial record and more, please click here to read The Oregonian’s account.