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Legal precedents make lawsuits against military contractors tough to win, but that hasn’t stopped lawyers for soldiers and private citizens injured during the Iraq war from looking for chinks in contractors’ legal armor. Two potential strategies involve the use of state fraud laws and whistleblower suits. At least 15 personal injury, wrongful death and products liability cases have been filed by soldiers or civilian employees of contractors against government contractors in federal courts from California to Massachusetts, with at least one state court claim in North Carolina. One case against manufacturers of the Apache Longbow helicopter and components-filed by soldiers injured during a maintenance flight in Iraq-settled last month for $13.55 million in a Los Angeles federal court. Carns v. Chadwick-Helmuth Electronics Inc., No. 05-06345 (C.D. Calif.). At least six other cases continue at the district court level, and four out of eight cases won by contractors are on appeal. Contractors are facing at least seven other federal cases on claims ranging from employment and overtime disputes, contract fights between contractors and wrongful death and injury claims filed by Iraqi nationals over alleged torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Turning to fraud laws Many of the contractor victories were based on the political-question doctrine defense, which deems certain issues-such as tactical military decisions made in a combat zone-outside a court’s jurisdiction. Toby Cole, a partner at Houston-based Midani, Hinkle & Cole, is working on two appeals, including one for injured client Kevin Smith-Idol that is slated for consolidation with two other appeals cases. Smith-Idol is a civilian truck driver who was injured on the job by an Iraqi insurgent attack. Kevin Smith-Idol v. Halliburton, No. 06-20905 (5th Cir.). Noting that his client was sent to Iraq early in the war and not apprised of the dangerous conditions under which he would work, Cole plans to appeal on the ground of Texas state fraud law. “We’re talking about decisions made in Houston, Texas,” he said. “We’re saying they were lied to before they got to Iraq.” David Kasanow, a partner in the Washington office of McKenna Long & Aldridge who represents engineering, construction and government services giant Halliburton Co. in the Smith-Idol litigation-and several similar cases-declined to comment. Defense counsel in products liability cases typically rely on the government-contractor defense. The precedent dates back to a 1988 Supreme Court case and offers immunity to contractors that work under, and adhere to, precise government specifications and that also warn government officials of problems with products or government protocols. Boyle v. United Technologies, 487 U.S. 500 (1988). The government’s extensive use of private contractors in Iraq has also prompted whistleblower, or False Claims Act. lawsuits. Alan Grayson of Grayson & Kubli in McLean, Va., has three of the U.S. Department of Justice’s 10 unsealed cases that involve alleged fraud in Afghanistan or Iraq, including the Custer Battles case, which related to allegedly fraudulent activities by a company hired by Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority. Custer Battles prevailed, except for a judgment requiring back pay, interest and costs to the whistleblower. The case is now on appeal. U.S. ex. rel. DRC Inc. v. Custer Battles LLC, No. 04-199 (E.D. Va.). “There have been billions spent and little or no effort to see that money is spent properly in a war zone,” Grayson said. Through a spokesman, the Justice Department said Houston-based EGL Inc., an ocean and air logistics company and subcontractor to a Halliburton subsidiary, settled for $4 million last year in a sealed case. In another case, Force Protection Inc. of Ladson, S.C., paid the United States $1.8 million last year to settle fraud claims stemming from the manufacture and delivery of armored vehicles in Iraq. U.S. ex rel. Chomyn v. Force Protection Inc., No. 05-1906 (D.S.C.). Six of the 79 ongoing investigations at the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction involve false claims and/or false billings.

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