Sustained Outrage

Oregon judge considers allowing KBR appeal

A civil lawsuit by members of the Oregon National Guard who were exposed to toxic chemicals at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq in 2003 against the civilian contractors overseeing the project is proceeding, even while a federal judge considers allowing the contractor to appeal his ruling.

As Julie Sullivan at The Oregonian reported, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak told attorneys for both sides to prepare for trial, but did not rule out the possibility of allowing KBR to pursue its appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Attorneys for Kellogg, Brown and Root seek an unusual appeal of Papak’s early decisions. They claim that suing a battlefield contractor for the U.S. military raises “unprecedented” legal questions that should be decided by the higher court first. Other federal judges have ruled in KBR’s favor in suits in Indiana and West Virginia, saying their courts lack jurisdiction.

The Oregon judge twice has rejected those arguments.

If the 9th agrees to hear the case, the process could delay a trial for years — or end the case outright.

Oregon Army National Guard vets sued KBR last year, claiming the company downplayed or disregarded hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. The soldiers say they were sickened by their exposure to the cancer-causing chemical.

Attorneys for the Oregon vets — about 34 are expected to be on the final case — say KBR is stalling.

“We just want to get these guys in court,” David Sugerman, of Portland, told the judge.

KBR attorney Jeffrey Eden, of Portland argued that “If we are correct and we end up in 24 months with a jury verdict and the 9th Circuit agrees with us, we have just wasted two years and countless resources.”

As I noted earlier, the West Virginia plaintiffs have joined a lawsuit in Texas, where KBR is headquartered. That case is scheduled to go to trial in May 2012.

You can read previous coverage of KBR and sodium dichromate exposure here, here, here and here. KBR has posted a factsheet here.