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Saturday, September 7, 2013

KBR Seeks Combat Immunity in Soldier Toxic-Exposure Suit

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KBR Inc. invoked federal law sshielding contractors during wartime in an effort to avoid aTexas trial over injuries claimed by troops who were exposed to toxic chemicals while guarding a work site in Iraq.

KBR argued today before a U.S. Court of Appeals panel in ElPaso, Texas, that contractor-on-the-battlefield statutes act asa firewall to litigation. Without that protection, KBR and othe rcontractors might abandon military support work altogether, the company has said.

“The judges were focused on how far can KBR stretch these government contracting defense doctrines to grab immunity for their conduct,” Mike Doyle, the soldiers’ lead attorney, saidin an interview after the 75-minute hearing. The judges weren’t“overly receptive” to KBR’s claim of “blanket immunity,”Doyle said.

Lawyers for injured soldiers urged the three-judge panel toreject KBR’s theory that the Houston-based company is immune from the lawsuits. The plaintiffs, 125 national guardsmen fromIndiana and West Virginia, as well as 13 members of Britain’sRoyal Air Force, accuse the company of exposing them to toxic chromium compounds in Iraq in 2003.

Wartime Decisions

“We had an excellent opportunity to get our points acrosst o the panel today, that this is a case that should never go to trial,” Lawrence Ebner, KBR’s appellate attorney, said in an interview after the hearing. Any lawsuit requiring an examination of U.S. wartime decisions,...
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