You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Judge nixes lawsuit against KBR in GI's death

Jul. 16, 2012 - 02:52PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 16, 2012 - 02:52PM  |  
  • Filed Under

PITTSBURGH A military contractor cannot be held liable in the death of a soldier who was electrocuted in his barracks shower at an Army base in Iraq, a federal judge said in dismissing a lawsuit brought by Pittsburgh-area soldier's mother.

Houston-based military contractor KBR Inc. cannot be held liable in Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth's death because military commanders not the contractor decided where to house soldiers and whether buildings with substandard electrical systems were suitable for troops, U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer said.

"As a contractor, KBR had no authority to order military personnel to do anything, including to direct soldiers where to live or shower," Fischer said in the 87-page opinion handed down late Friday. In it, she relied on military records and the sworn testimony of commanders taken in pretrial depositions.

William Stickman, an attorney for Cheryl Maseth, said he'll ask the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Fischer's opinion, which he said was overly broad.

Stickman said the legal standards Fischer used are meant to immunize the military and its contractors from lawsuits should soldiers be harmed during combat-related duties, when normal levels of civil negligence might be impossible to police, but not from what he called "routine building support services."

"To extend immunity to KBR in this case would essentially give them a free pass to engage in any negligence" connected with the housing of soldiers in Iraq, Stickman said.

Attorneys for KBR referred comment to a company spokesman, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

All parties agree that Maseth died in January 2008, when an improperly grounded water pump electrified his shower water. What they don't agree on is whether KBR was legally responsible for the shoddy electrical work that was common in Iraqi-built structures taken over by the U.S. military.

The building in which Maseth died was looted by the locals and left with "no electrical power, electrical components, internal plumbing, doors or windows" before the military decided to renovate it. Local contractors were hired to do that work "to improve U.S.-Iraqi relations and to support the local economy which had been devastated by the war," Fischer found. The Iraqi contractors didn't work up to American building code standards, the judge wrote.

Initially, the building was to house offices and a command post, instead of living quarters, so "making the building safe for living quarters was not considered a priority during the renovations," the judge found.

One general said in his deposition that the Army approved of housing soldiers including himself in such substandard buildings because they were still considered safer than more temporary structures that might not withstand artillery fire.

Stickman contends that's not relevant because KBR signed off on work orders to repair specific electrical problems in the building, which should have prevented Maseth's death had the work been done properly.

But Fischer found the Army's contract required KBR to maintain the "existing electrical systems" substandard though they were not to improve them.

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

From Our Blogs


The latest from PT365

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.

This Week's Army Times

This Week's Army Times

CrossFit vs. unit PT
Troops will do the training plans in a $2.5 million study

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook