PORTLAND, Ore. - A jury on Friday ordered an American military contractor to pay $85 million after finding it guilty of negligence for illnesses suffered by a dozen Oregon soldiers who guarded an oilfield water plant during the Iraq war.
After a three-week trial, the jury deliberated for just two days before reaching a decision against the contractor, Kellogg Brown and Root.
The suit was the first concerning soldiers' exposure to a toxin at a water plant in southern Iraq. The soldiers said they suffer from respiratory ailments after their exposure to sodium dichromate, and they fear that a carcinogen the toxin contains, hexavalent chromium, could cause cancer later in life.
Attorney David Sugerman, right, and an unidentified plaintiff walk into federal court for opening arguments in a lawsuit against defense contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root in Portland, Ore., Wednesday. The federal civil suit against KBR alleges that Oregon National Guard soldiers were sickened by a chemical at an Iraqi water treatment plant.
Rocky Bixby, the soldier whose name appeared on the suit, said the verdict should reflect a punishment for the company's neglect of U.S. soldiers.
"This was about showing that they cannot get away with treating soldiers like that," Bixby said. "It should show them what they did was wrong, prove what they did was wrong and punish them for what they did."
Each soldier received $850,000 in noneconomic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages.
Another suit from Oregon Guardsmen is on hold while the Portland trial plays out. There are also suits pending in Texas involving soldiers from Texas, Indiana and West Virginia.
KBR was found guilty of negligence but not a secondary claim of fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Papak acknowledged before the trial began that, whatever the verdict, the losing side was likely to appeal it.
Any appeal must first wait for Papak to formally enter the judgment.
The company will appeal the verdict, said KBR attorney Geoffrey Harrison in a statement issued late Friday afternoon. Harrison said the verdict "bears no rational relationship to the evidence."
"KBR did safe, professional, and exceptional work in Iraq under difficult circumstances," Harrison said in the statement," and multiple U.S. Army officers testified under oath that KBR communicated openly and honestly about the potential health risks.