Bixby v. KBR–Oregon Congressional Delegation members push back on KBR and Department of Defense

The Oregon Qarmat Ali Vets’ case, Bixby v. KBR, continues. A group of 12 of these veterans won a stunning $85 million verdict against KBR for toxic harms suffered in Iraq at a KBR- contaminated site. After the verdict, and while the case was on KBR’s slow-track appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court issued, Walden v. Fiorean opinion in an unrelated case that changed the rules of jurisdiction. When the case came before the Ninth Circuit, it remanded the case because jurisdiction was improper.

And then KBR filed a claim for costs against these veterans, seeking approximately $850,000 from 12 sick vets who provided KBR with security. KBR got paid handsomely for its war-time work on a no-bid contract. KBR is seeking to have the United States indemnify it for all costs in these lawsuits. And even so–after winning on a technicality–KBR is now seeking to bankrupt these vets.

There are countless horror stories involving our vets. And this is one more. They served. They were sent. They did their jobs. They sacrificed. And now this.

It is perhaps too much to hope that anyone will care. And that is the point of this post. Thanks are due to members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation: Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, Rep. Blumanauer, Rep. Schrader, Rep. Bonamici, and Rep. DeFazio did Oregon proud when they wrote this  Ltr Or Cong to DOD 15 July 2015 letter to the Department of Defense, blasting KBR and calling on the Department of Defense to take over these cases and resolve them equitably.

“These veterans deserve better***.”  I couldn’t agree more.


A Juror Speaks Out: More on Bixby v KBR

A follow up  on a recent post. Our story so far:  Judge Papak issued a comprehensive 63-page opinion on Friday affirming the jury verdict in favor of 12 Oregon Army National Guard veterans against KBR. The men were injured by sodium dichromate contamination, while providing security at a KBR work site, the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant, in Iraq in 2003.  My work on the team representing the veterans has consumed a good part of my professional life.

Under the rules that govern the conduct of Oregon lawyers, I am not allowed to approach jurors and ask them for feedback on their service in a case I have tried. The rule exists for good reasons. We don’t want lawyers to be able to use jurors’ statements to undermine verdicts, and we never want to add additional burden to the difficult duty of serving on a jury. The rule is straightforward: We can talk if a juror initiates contact but cannot contact jurors.

That said, I am always incredibly interested in what jurors think. (Most every trial lawyer is, so in that regard I’m not special.)

That’s why I found this follow up news report so exciting. Mike Francis, The Oregonian reporter, is not under the same restrictions. He can ask jurors for feedback and comments after the trial, and he got a response from Ken Howe, the presiding juror.

Very cool to hear Mr. Howe’s take. I was initially blown away to read that Mr. Howe had gotten a copy of the opinion and read it over the weekend. Then I was appreciative all over again of how hard this jury worked.

While there is a lot of law in the opinion–that’s required with what we do–Judge Papak’s  opinion focuses on the evidence in detail. From  The Oregonian, it appears that Mr. Howe and Judge Papak viewed the evidence in similar fashion.

As Mike Francis reports, Mr. Howe explained:

“‘His [Judge Papak’s] analysis of the evidence closely echoed our discussions during deliberations,” *** “Not being trained in the legal profession, I don’t fully understand the reduction of the non-economic damages award, but I was pleased to see that Judge Papak let the punitive damages stand — another confirmation of our verdict.'”

As Mike Francis noted:

“Papak’s opinion amounts to a point-by-point refutation of KBR’s legal arguments during the trial.”

There are many reasons why this case is important. There are many pieces to this big story that will be told for a while and remembered for the rest of our lives. That said, every hour, every sleepless night, every worry has been worthwhile for these veterans. When our system of justice works, it is a sweet thing.

I’m sure the jurors who served know that the veterans, and those of us who served as counsel, stand in awe. Their service, too, is a huge part of this story. It’s one I imagine I’ll never get to hear or tell, but that’s the life of a trial lawyer.

-David Sugerman

Oregon Qarmat Ali vets’ case against KBR headed to trial

Today, Judge Papak issued another summary judgment opinion denying KBR’s motions for summary judgment on fraud and negligence. Here is a PDF copy: 512 – opinion & order – fraud and neglig It’s a long opinion, but it provides a really clear view of some of the information that has come out during the course of our work on behalf of the Oregon Army National Guard veterans.

Trial begins October 9, 2012. We are looking forward to our day in court.

David Sugerman

KBR’s concealment of discovery

Yesterday in our Qarmat Ali Vets case against KBR, we filed a motion for sanctions. The filing is here (pdf). The Memorandum (toward the bottom) lays it out in detail. Turns out that KBR concealed critically-important information about the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant and its extreme level of contamination. They knew about that in 2002 or early 2003, long before Oregon Army National Guard veterans went into the site.

Today’s Oregonian reports the story here, including rather colorful big words (“histrionic” and “hyperbolic”) bandied about by lead counsel for KBR. One wonders why KBR hurls big words and accusations when they simply could have avoided this problem by coming clean.

I suppose we could respond in kind. Not going to happen because not much is served by doing so. For readers who might wonder about the lack of response, let me just say that this is neither the time nor the place. We are scheduled for our first trial in Oregon in October. Fair to say I am looking forward to it. I hope that’s not too histrionic or hyperbolic.

On Veterans’ Day, let’s hold KBR accountable

So here is what is happening in my law office today, Veteran’s Day, 2011: Kevin Stanger is giving a deposition in Bixby v. KBR, the case in U.S. District Court here in Oregon where veterans dare to call corporate giant KBR to account.

Mr. Stanger is one of the vets sickened by exposure to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant. The Vets dare to demand an accounting and justice from KBR.

In 2003, Mr. Stanger was in the command unit of the Oregon Army National Guard. He was one of the many soldiers who relied on KBR to be straight about the dangers at Qarmat Ali. KBR failed to do its job, and now Mr. Stanger and many of his brothers in arms are sick.

The vets’ depositions are grueling. Each vet sits in our conference room for a day. answering KBR lawyers’ questions under oath. I’ve had to apologize to the guys–it’s a lousy process.

Even so, there is some beauty and irony in Mr. Stanger’s deposition today. Our soldiers swear to defend and protect the United State Constitution when they take their enlistment oaths. When they enlisted, I doubt any of the Qarmat Ali vets thought for a moment that they might be the ones who needed their constitutional rights to trial by jury. Thankfully, that right endures because of each veteran’s commitment to the constitution.

While Mr. Stanger is giving his deposition, I am head-down working on our opposition to KBR’s latest motion to have the case thrown out of court. The Vets’ legal team’s hard work on this Veterans’ Day is all that we can give toward repayment of the vast debt owed to our veterans. It is not enough, of course, but I hope that it is a modest start.


Inspector General critical of KBR conduct in Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant toxic injuries

The Inspector General of the Department of Defense released its long-awaited final report Exposure to Sodium Dichromate at Qarmat Alli Iraq in 2003: Part II Evaluation of Army and Contractor Actions Report No. SPO-2011-009 (September 28, 2011).

Here is the current report: Part II Qarmat Ali FINAL Report Sept 28

And here is a link to a pdf of Part 1, for those interested. The findings confirm much of what the vets in the Qarmat Ali cases have been saying in the their long fight against KBR for exposure injuries from sodium dichormate.

From the summary:

“Contractor recognition of, and response to, the health hazard represented by sodium dichromate contamination, once identified at the Qarmat Ali facility, was delayed. The delay occurred because KBR did not fully comply with occupational safety and health standards required by the contract, and Task Force Restore Iraqi Oil failed to enforce contractor compliance. As a result, a greater number of Service members and DoD civilian employees were exposed to sodium dichromate, and for longer periods, increasing the potential for chronic health effects and future liabilities.”

-DOD IG Qarmat Ali report, p. i.

The DOD IG report explains that KBR first became aware of the sodium dichromate contamination in late May 2003. Our evidence suggests that it was earlier and that KBR knew in April 2003.

The report includes a laundry-list of contract problems and safety violations. KBR did not do what it was supposed to in protecting people at the site. (Report, pp. 12-14). We made similar arguments in court here in Oregon when we briefed and won KBR’s motion to dismiss.

The IG report represents a good day for the sick vets. My view is that the IG acted because the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and Oregon Congressional delegatoin pressed the issue of Qarmat Ali exposures.

The Oregon Congressional delegation provides great leadership on these issues. Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, Rep. Blumenaur, Rep. Schrader, and Rep. DeFazio have been particularly helpful to Oregon’s Qarmat Ali vets.

As the guy in the trenches, I can say that this day restores some of my lost faith in our government. Members of Congress pushed, and the Inspector General’s office did  their job in a frank and thorough fashion. We are pleased.

Meantime, here is today’s report on the Inspector General’s report from The Oregonian.  While it is a good day, nothing has changed. The vets are still sick, and KBR has still refused to reckon with the harms and the losses. Our fight for the vets continues.

Revised 29 Sept 2011

Ten years after 9/11–what about the debts owed to our veterans?

Ten years after the 9/11 tragedy, I am thinking today of the first responders and veterans who volunteered for service. They did so understanding the dangers and the risks, and they did so as a matter of duty and conscience. In answering the call, they put themselves in harm’s way. It was not just them, of course. Their families have borne heavy costs from their service.

Against this backdrop, I continue to represent the sick veterans of the Oregon Army National Guard 1/162. They provided security at the heavily-contaminated Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant in Iraq. KBR was responsible for the facility as part of its secret, no-bid, multi-billion dollar Restore Iraqi Oil contract.

Many of the vets who provided security to KBR contractors at Qarmat Ali are sick. Some vets from other units have perished from cancer. All who served in that toxic facility are rightfully worried about the future.

I am something of a cynic–I suppose that’s part of my job. I usually distrust flag waving because it can distract us from what is important. So let’s commit to do more than wave flags. How about we resolve to take care of our sick and injured veterans and their families? How about we hold accountable those who profited from the war contracts and insist that they take responsibility for what they have wrought?

Debts are owed. It is time to pay.

Details emerge on KBR’s request for taxpayer bailuout

In today’s Oregonian, Julie Sullivan (aka “the one-woman wrecking crew”) reports here on emerging details of KBR’s request for a taxpayer bailout.  Short version is that as revealed by depositions taken in our Oregon Army National Guard toxic injury case, Bixby v. KBR, KBR won a special secret contract clause that requires the government to pay in the event of injuries or deaths.

Special thanks to Rep. Earl Blumenauer who pushed the Department of Defense on this issue.  Along with Sen. Wyden, Sen. Merkley and Rep. Schrader, Rep. Blumenauer has made it a point to take a hard look at these issues and provide critical assistance to our vets.  Members of the Oregon Congressional delegation have been fabulous.  Their hard work provides real comfort to the vets who stepped up to serve.

One question that occurs to me is whether that clause is enforceable if the vets in the Bixby case succeed in proving fraud by KBR. I don’t profess any particular expertise in this area. And even if I did, the details remain secret, so it’s likely impossible to know how that plays out.

As a taxpayer and as counsel for the sick vets, I’m steamed.  KBR already got paid billions for their work, and now they want a get-out-of-jail-free card so that they don’t have to pay for any consequences of their actions? Great plan.

Smoking gun in toxic injury case against KBR and Halliburton

In today’s Oregonian, Julie Sullivan reports here about a document provided to the soldiers in discovery that is one of those classic smoking guns. In our case, Bixby v. KBR, KBR and Halliburton claim that they didn’t know about the sodium dichromate until late July or August, they claim that they told the Army immediately, they claim that they never used sodium dichromate, and they claim that no one was injured from the exposure.

Against those claims, this pdf document,  Team RIO Mtg Min 02 Oct 2003 MCM00739, tells a very different story. The document is a summary of a meeting in Oct 2003 of members of Team RIO (Restore Iraqi Oil). Representatives from KBR, the Army Corp of Engineers (“USACE”) and Iraq’s Southern Oil Company (“SOC”) were discussing the sodium dichromate contamination of the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant.

Qarmat Ali is where our troops provided security to KBR employees as they worked under their secret, no-bid, $7 billion, cost-plus contract to rebuild Iraqi oil production. The document raises a few questions.   No doubt the soldiers’ legal team will be exploring those questions when we get to trial.

Thinking about our veterans today

I’m not a flag waver.  Never have been. Like the vast majority of Americans, I have treated Veterans Day as one of those days in the fall that I might have off from work. No thought to the meaning; no thought to the sacrifices that lie beneath.

That changed in a profound way last year when I agreed to help sick soldiers and vets from the Oregon Army National Guard’s 1/162. These men were poisoned by exposures to sodium dichromate while providing security to KBR and Halliburton employees. They came back hurt and sick.

In working on their legal team, I’ve come to learn about the soldiers and vets and their families.  Their sacrifices are so great. They served for all the right reasons.  And now they are wounded and hurting.

Seems to me that every vet deserves our appreciation today. For those who have come back from service broken and hurt, we the people owe them.  And for those who are broken and hurt because a greedy contractor violated safety rules in pursuit of profits, well, let’s just say that I’m doing my best to make sure your day of reckoning comes.

Thanks vets.