A federal appeals court has revived lawsuits against military contractors over a deadly ambush in 2004 that killed civilian truck drivers in Iraq. The suits, filed by truckers and their families, accuse Halliburton and a former subsidiary, KBR Inc., of knowingly sending a convoy into a dangerous area where six KBR drivers were killed and several others wounded in the ambush. A federal judge in Houston dismissed the lawsuits in September 2006, saying the courts can’t second-guess the military’s battlefield decisions. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans reversed that ruling and has sent the three cases back to the lower court for further proceedings. A three-judge panel from the appeals court said it may be possible to resolve the lawsuits without making a “constitutionally impermissible review of wartime decision-making.” Judge Leslie Southwick, writing for the court, stated:
Cases spawned in a war zone involve constitutional issues and “practical considerations” that can prevent them from being resolved in court. It appears, though, that these tort-based claims of civilian employees against their civilian employers can be separated from the political questions that loom so large in the background.
At least 110 of KBR’s employees have been killed in Iraq since the company started working there in 2003 under a multibillion-dollar military contract. Although Halliburton is named in the lawsuit, the activity involved was apparently carried out pursuant to a KBR contract. Christina Fountain, a lawyer representing the families of the truck drivers who were killed in the convoy and the drivers who survived, had this to say about the ruling:
We believe they (the court) applied the law properly to the facts as well as to the allegations and causes of action in the case.
Under the appeals court ruling, the truck drivers’ families will be able to prove their fraud and misrepresentation claims against KBR over the company’s hiring practices without second-guessing the Army’s actions. However, the negligence claims may implicate the political question doctrine, according to Judge Southwick. For that reason, the judge wrote, “further factual development very may well demonstrate that those claims are barred.” It will be interesting to see how this case winds up. Hopefully, the lawyers for the plaintiffs will be able to withstand and overcome the defendants’ challenges. The politically-connected defendants in this case are making a fortune out of the Iraq war, but that’s a story for another day!
Source: Associated Press
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