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Oregon National Guard soldiers vs. KBR – Trial Wrap-up

From left are Charles Seamon, Aaron St. Clair, Jason Arnold, attorney David Sugerman, and Rocky Bixby in front of the federal court, shortly after the KBR verdict was announced Friday afternoon. (Photo Motoya Nakamura / The Oregonian)

Some reflections on the KBR trial by a juror
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – November 4 , 2012 – I reached out to most of the jurors who awarded damages Friday to the Oregon National Guard soldiers and, so far, one has agreed to discuss the jury’s deliberations, on the condition that he/she not be identified. Here are a few bullet points from our conversation.

1. A consensus emerged fairly quickly that KBR was negligent in the way it operated at Qarmat Aliin 2003. KBR “displayed a level of incompetence you wouldn’t expect from a professional organization being paid well” to do its job, the juror said.

The jury was influenced by the fact that KBR eventually did shut down operations at the water treatment plant out of concerns over contamination by sodium dichromate, which contains the carcinogen hexavalent chromium. Yet KBR was present at the site beginning in March and operated there daily through the spring and summer. To think something changed that much at the site between March and August “defies logic,” the juror said. “There should have been enough red flags. They screwed up in not identifying it early.”  (Click HERE for article)

KBR trial: Some morning-after observations
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – November 3, 2012 – While the trial felt like a marathon that ended in a Friday-afternoon frenzy, the KBR case is far from over. Or, as one of the soldiers’ lawyers told his clients in the moments after the verdict was read, “Don’t start writing checks yet.”KBR’s lawyers will ask Judge Papak to throw out the verdict for multiple technical reasons, including what’s known as “the political question.” Failing that, they will appeal.

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Oregon National Guard soldiers vs. KBR – Trial News

Rocky Bixby 2010 – photo Beth Nakamura / The Oregonian

After some discussion of his military duties, his skin condition and his uncertainty about the effects of his exposure, his lawyer asked him why he had joined the lawsuit against KBR.

Because it could happen again,” he said. The idea that KBR workers and officials might have known something he didn’t about the toxic hazards at Qarmat Ali is “stressful” and “upsetting,” he said. ~Testimony of veteran Ronald Bjerklund

The KBR trial operates on two planes: The soldiers’ and the lawyers’
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 18, 2012 – It’s striking, while sitting through the testimony and the legal maneuvering in the case brought by Oregon soldiers against KBR Inc., to note the differing perspectives each participant brings to the trial.

The lawyers and Judge Paul Papak are sorting through questions about legal and technical issues such as which testimony and legal demonstrations are permissible, as the jury weighs the facts and opinions presented in court.

But the group of 12 Oregon men who are plaintiffs are different. They aren’t in court to sift the legal tactics or matters of medicine. They say they are there because, if an injustice occurred, it deserves a reckoning.

Thursday afternoon brought to the stand Ronald Bjerklund, 42, an Army and Oregon National Guard veteran who’s deployed four times. He’s concerned about a persistent skin irritation that he fears may have been triggered by his presence for two days at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in 2003.  (Click HERE for article)

Thursday morning in the KBR case: A few words from the Army Corps of Engineers
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 18, 2012 – Mike Remington was the Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist for the Restore Iraqi Oil project in Iraq from late March 2003 until July 5, when he flew home for a family emergency. That put him in charge of safety at sites such as Qarmat Ali, where KBR Inc. engineers and technicians were working to repair a badly damaged water treatment plant, when Oregon soldiers served there.

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Oregon National Guard soldiers vs. KBR – Trial news

The obituary photo of LTC Jim Gentry, who died of lung cancer in 2009

For KBR not to have informed him and his men directly of the hazards at Qarmat Ali, he said, made him “very disappointed.”

“Why?” asked his questioner.

“I’m dying now because of it,” he replied.~ Testimony of LTC James Gentry – Indiana National Guard Commander

Two Oregon soldiers take the stand for the first time in KBR case
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 15, 2012 – After more than two years of legal motions, objections, depositions and pretrial hearings, Oregon National Guard soldiers suing defense contractor KBR Inc. got their day in court Monday.

Guard veterans Jason Arnold of Redmond and Rocky Bixby of Portland took the stand for the first time to describe their experiences at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southern Iraq in the spring of 2003. The two are among 12 Oregon Guard soldiers or veterans who accuse the contractor of negligence and fraud in exposing them to a carcinogen chemical compound when they provided security at the plant. Others are expected to testify in the coming days as the trial enters its second week.

Arnold said he entered a damaged building at the water plant to check for security threats and saw damaged equipment and paper strewn about the floor. He said he picked up some papers and kicked up some dust as he did so. (Click HERE for article)

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Oregon case against KBR is streamlined

Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – April 10, 2012 – The suit brought by several dozen Oregon National Guard soldiers against military contractor KBR Inc. has been downsized by the federal judge hearing the case.

In an effort to reduce the number of plaintiffs to a manageable number, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak has ordered trial to proceed in October with 12 plaintiffs — four chosen by lawyers for each side, and four selected by the court.

Separately, one plaintiff, Michael O’Rielly, has withdrawn from the case at his own request.

That leaves 21 soldiers whose case against KBR will be set aside while the trial of the first dozen proceeds in Portland this fall.

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Defense Department Inspector General says KBR and the military failed to respond quickly to health risks posed to Oregon soldiers

Sodium dichromate has been linked a range of illnesses

…Minutes of a June 14-15 meeting between TF RIO, KBR, and Iraqi State Company for Oil Projects representatives noted that “chemical treatment should [be] selected based on widely available nontoxic commodity chemicals.” However, e-mails between KBR personnel in late June indicated a decision from corporate headquarters in Houston to keep using “chromate” and other chemicals used previously. Three TF RIO witnesses we interviewed supported the conclusion that sodium dichromate was not used at Qarmat Ali after TF RIO and KBR personnel arrived… ~ Part II – Exposure to Sodium Dichromate at Qarmat Ali Iraq in 2003

Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – September 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. Read the remainder of this entry »