Friday, January 8, 2010

Liability of private government contractors for injuries to soldiers

A group of Indiana National Guardsmen has filed suit against a prominent government contractor, KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root), for injuries sustained following exposure to chemicals during a KBR-led site cleanup in Iraq, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Under the federal "Feres doctrine," active duty soldiers are prohibited from taking legal action against the military and government for injuries sustained through military service. This doctrine is often expanded to cover suits against military contractors, such as KBR or United Technologies, which manufactures the Blackhawk helicopter, to protect these private companies for injuries caused by their negligence in completing a project or designing military equipment. Private contractors argue that because they are carrying out projects based on specifications of the military, they should receive the same immunity as the government.

As Turkheimer & Hadden partner John Hadden has written, however, the degree to which these private contractors actually follow government specifications varies greatly, with some contractors simply producing a final product that complies generally with the needs of the military without having had any government or military input, raising the question of whether these private companies should receive blanket immunity for defective products or services solely because they are produced for the military.

The attorneys at Turkheimer & Hadden have been closely following the development of government contractor immunity over the past decade, and are hopeful that this latest case involving the Indiana National Guard will raise awareness of and foster public debate about access to civil justice for those injured by the negligence of private corporations.

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