Military contractors can be sued by soldiers and others who allege they were harmed by improper waste disposal while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a federal judge in Maryland has ruled. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus ruled that Houston-based military contractors Halliburton Co. and KBR are subject to lawsuits alleging the contractors exposed soldiers to toxic emissions and contaminated water when they burned waste in open pits without proper safety controls.
Judge Titus is overseeing 43 lawsuits filed in 42 states on the issue. The Plaintiffs claim the waste disposal methods used by the contractors caused serious physical injuries, including cancer and permanent respiratory damage. The contractors sought to have the lawsuits dismissed, saying it would require the courts to evaluate sensitive military decisions without the necessary knowledge or expertise. Judge Titus agreed the courts must treat such lawsuits with caution to protect military missions abroad. He wrote in his order:
Courts must be careful not to pass judgment on matters outside their realm of competence, and especially in national security matters entrusted to other branches of government.
Judge Titus ultimately concluded, however, that the courts should hear the cases so that people who may have been harmed have a chance to make their case. He said both sides should proceed in such a way that the military would not have to deal with intrusive requests for information.
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