Toby Cole and Mark Midani, partners in Houston’s Midani, Hinkle & Cole, have carved out a specialty of sorts: Iraq war-related cases.
They are handling about a dozen pending complaints for current and former employees of KBR Inc., a Houston-based military contractor with operations in Iraq.
In April, they negotiated a nearly $2 million settlement in Perry B. Monroe, et al. v. Erinys, aka Erinys International Ltd., aka Erinys Iraq Ltd. on behalf of other clients who had sued a private security contractor, London-based Erinys International. Erinys provides security to military personnel and officials from the U.S. Department of State, other government agencies, and private individuals and companies in Iraq.
Most recently, on Oct. 16, Cole and Midani filed Sangar Mawloud Mohamed, et al. v. Erinys International, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston on behalf of five Iraqi citizens. Cole says solicitors at London-based Leigh Day & Co. — who had learned about the Iraqis’ situation from an aid organization — referred them to Midani, Hinkle because of the firm’s April settlement of Monroe.
In Monroe , Cole and Midani negotiated the settlement on behalf of the father and estate of Christopher T. Monroe, a U.S. soldier who died in Iraq on Oct. 25, 2005. Cole says the soldier’s father retained him for the representation.
As alleged in the Oct. 24, 2007, complaint in Monroe , filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, an Erinys employee driving an armored vehicle at night with only parking lights on struck Monroe, killing him. His father, Perry B. Monroe, who lives outside Houston, and the estate sued Erinys, alleging negligence and seeking unspecified damages.
In its first amended answer to the Monroe complaint, filed June 4, 2008, Erinys argued the court lacked jurisdiction over the case and the defendant; the plaintiffs lacked standing; and the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs were not caused by the defendant’snegligence. The suit settled on April 26, with Erinys agreeing to pay $1,999,999 to the estate of Monroe and to Cole’s firm. Cole says since his firm handled the case on a contingent-fee basis, it received between 33 percent to 40 percent of that settlement — $600,000 to $800,000. [See the Settlement and Full and Final Release.]
Cole estimates there are about 30 federal civil suits pending in the United States in which Iraqi plaintiffs are suing private security contractors operating in Iraq. And one of those suits is Mohamed.
In their complaint the Mohamed plaintiffs allege they were injured when Erinys employees or consultants negligently opened fire on a taxi in which they were riding in October 2007 near Kara Hanjir, Iraq. [See the Plaintiffs' Original Complaint.]
The Mohamed plaintiffs’ causes of action against Erinys include negligence, assault and battery, negligent hiring, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They seek unspecified damages.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs also name as defendants two other companies: Nour USA of Vienna, Va., and Anham, which the complaint claims does not have an identified address. The plaintiffs make no allegations against those two defendants. Cole says his clients believe Nour USA and Anham are affiliated with Erinys and his clients named the two companies because they hope to introduce evidence to establish those affiliations in the future.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Erinys has “contacts in Houston.” Cole maintains that the company had a consultant and physical office in Houston at the time the Mohamed plaintiffs were injured.
In Monroe , Cole says he was able to introduce evidence in pretrial motions of Erinys’ contacts in Texas.
Speaking generally about the two cases, Cole says, “We have already been successful once, and based on what we have seen about this company [Erinys], how they trained and hired, we expected to be successful again.”
Robert Nichols, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Crowell & Moring who represents Erinys in matters unrelated to the Mohamed suit, declines comment. He says Erinys does not have an office in Houston. The Erinys media relations office did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment before presstime on Nov. 12.
Nour spokesman Hassan Judeh did not return a telephone call. Eric J. Marcotte, a litigation partner in the D.C. office of Winston & Strawn who represents Nour, says his client does not believe its employees were involved in any of the actions alleged inthe complaint.
Anham’s Web site lists its headquarters as in the United Arab Emirates but does not list any U.S. offices. An attempt to send an e-mail seeking comment to the address on the site was unsuccessful.
Cole says he has not yet met his Iraqi clients but he plans to travel to their country soon to interview them further. So far he has relied on written interviews of the clients obtained by Leigh Day, which he saysis serving as co-counsel.