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.
Each Army National Guardsman was awarded $850,000 in non-economic damages and another $6.25 million in punitive damages for "reckless and outrageous indifference" to their health in the trial in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Guardsman 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.
Attorneys for the 12 Oregon National Guardsmen focused on the months of April, May and June 2003, alleging KBR knew about the presence of sodium dichromate and took no action.
One of the soldiers' key witnesses, a doctor, testified that hexavalent chromium caused a change to soldiers' genes, leaving them more susceptible to cancer. KBR's attorneys challenged that diagnosis, saying the soldiers' witness was the only physician in the U.S. prepared to make such a diagnosis.
Plaintiff Jason Arnold said he understands that contractors are a necessity for often-specialized tasks, but he hopes the verdict forces the U.S. military to reexamine its relationship with the private defense industry.
"For a corporation to come in and have this much disregard for the health and well-being of men that are shedding blood, sweat and tears for this country," Arnold said, "for them to come in and to say that we mean less than their profit, is wrong."
During the Iraq war, KBR was the engineering and construction arm of Halliburton, the biggest U.S. contractor during the conflict.