Poisoned Guardsman to Get $75M From KBR

     (CN) – KBR owes $75 million to a dozen Oregon national guardsmen who were poisoned with hexavalent chromium while stationed in Iraq, a federal magistrate ruled.
     All together, 39 guardsmen had sued over their exposure to sodium dichromate and subsequent hexavalent chromium poisoning while stationed at a water plant in the Basrah oil fields of Qarmat Ali, Iraq, from May to September 2003.
     Sodium dichromate is a rust inhibitor or anticorrosion agent that is a common source of hexavalent chromium, an extremely dangerous carcinogen.
     Six guardsmen withdrew as plaintiffs, and a representative has stepped in as a substitute for a seventh plaintiff who died in 2012.
     At a trial on 12 of the plaintiffs’ claims, a federal jury found the defense contractor liable for negligence and ordered it to pay each of the plaintiffs $6.25 million in punitive damages. The jury cleared KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary previously known as Kellogg Brown & Root, of fraud related to the 12 guardsmen.
     While the remaining 21 plaintiffs have since filed a sixth amended complaint, the trial plaintiffs wanted the court to enter final judgment on the 2012 verdict. KBR meanwhile tried to unravel the outcome of the trial. It wanted the court to either grant it judgment as a matter of law, a new trial or reduced damages.
     Among several alleged trial errors, KBR challenged personal jurisdiction, some of the included testimony, and the idea that their negligence actually harmed the guardsmen.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak disputed every supposed error and entered final judgment for the 12 trial plaintiffs on Friday.
     “A preponderance of the trial evidence establishes that the trial defendants, by and through their employees or agents, affirmatively misrepresented the extent of the risk posed by sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali to trial plaintiffs and others in their chain of command, and failed to disclose the extent of that risk to any trial plaintiff,” the 63-page opinion states.
     “By contrast, defendants offered no evidence that they provided information accurately describing the extent of the health risk posed by exposure to sodium dichromate to any trial plaintiff or to any other party prior to the end of the Oregon National Guard’s deployment to Qarmat Ali,” Papak added. “The preponderance of the evidence thus supports plaintiffs’ allegation that the trial defendants both misrepresented the extent of the risk of chemical hazards at Qarmat Ali and failed to disclose the actual extent of that risk to any trial plaintiff.”
     Citing testimony from a KBR environmental manager, Papak added that “a preponderance of the evidence likewise establishes that the trial defendants knew of sodium dichromate contamination at Qarmat Ali, and of the fact that the chemical represented a significant risk to the safety of personnel exposed to it, both at and prior to the time the Oregon National Guardsmen were deployed to the site.”
     Lawrence Roberta, a trial plaintiff, told an Oregon House subcommittee in 2009 that “the sodium dichromate was everywhere, it was stacked in bags. … It appeared that somebody had taken the bags to the doors, ’cause it was stored in buildings, and physically stacked it there and destroyed the bags so you had to walk through it to get in.”
     Ronald Bjerklund and Matthew Hadley, two other trial plaintiffs, had testified in the trial that they had the gear that would have protected them from exposure, but that they did not use it because KBR kept them in the dark.
     The jury had also awarded each plaintiff $850,000 in noneconomic damages, but Judge Papak said this figure is subject to a $500,000 statutory cap. He declined, however, to order a new trial or reduce the punitive damages award, finding that $6.25 million apiece is well under the 9-to-1 ratio cap for punitive damages.

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