KBR Ordered to Pay Troops $85 Million in Chromium Case

KBR Inc. (KBR), the largest U.S. military contractor, must pay 12 U.S. soldiers $85 million in noneconomic and punitive damages for negligently exposing the troops to toxic chromium dust at a company worksite in Iraq in 2003, a federal court jury in Portland, Oregon, said.

The case was the first to go to trial against Houston-based KBR over injuries suffered by its employees or by troops guarding the workers at company sites in Iraq. The company has previously won favorable rulings that allowed it to avoid trial in lawsuits by soldiers and employees claiming injuries from the U.S. war in Iraq beginning in 2003.

“KBR is being held accountable at last for putting profits above the welfare of the soldiers,” Mike Doyle, the troops’ lawyer, said yesterday in a phone interview. “This trial was the first time a jury has seen what the company did to soldiers in the field.”

The trial was a test case over injuries suffered by Oregon national guardsmen who protected KBR workers at Qarmat Ali, an oil-production facility the company was hired to rehabilitate after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003.

“KBR did safe, professional and exceptional work in Iraq under difficult circumstances,” said John Elolf, a KBR spokesman. He said the company will appeal the verdict and that the “law will ultimately provide vindication.”

Indiana Troops

Twenty-two other soldiers in the Oregon case and 130 national guardsmen, mostly from Indiana, are also suing KBR over toxic exposure at Qarmat Ali. The Indiana troops’ case is on hold until the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans determines whether their claims are valid against a military contractor during war time.

Evidence and testimony introduced at the Oregon trial proved KBR knowingly failed to notify or protect troops from exposure to chemicals containing carcinogenic hexavalent chromium that the Iraqis used at the water-treatment facility, Doyle said.

Jurors yesterday awarded each of the soldiers $850,000 for noneconomic damages. They awarded $6.25 million to each in punitive damages after finding KBR acted with “reckless and outrageous indifference” to their health and safety, according to the verdict.

The case is Bixby v. KBR Inc., 3:09-cv-00632, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Portland).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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