Contractor Ordered to Pay $5 million to Family of Soldier Killed in Iraq

A district court has ordered a military contractor to pay $5 million in damages to the family of Army Lt. Col. Dominic “Rocky” Baragona for his death in Iraq. It is a case that could open the door to more lawsuits against contractors in Iraq.

At one time, Baragona (who was a West Point graduate) was the highest ranking officer to die in Iraq.  He was just an hour away from a U.S. base in Kuwait when a tractor-trailer operated by Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company slammed into his Humvee on May 19, 2003. He died instantly – he was 42 years old shortly before he was to return home.

Such actions have been barred under the Feres Doctrine. The Feres Doctrine is a legal rule that bars service members and their families from suing the government for even the most horrendous acts of negligence and abuse. Because of this obscure rule, service members have become fodder for medical malpractice and other forms of negligence in the military. In one case, an Army doctor left a 30-by-18-inch towel inside a soldier; it was discovered 18 months after the surgery. The Supreme Court said a suit would threaten military decision making.

Here Feres was avoided by the Court presumably because KGL was not a military contractor.  The case, however, did extend a domestic court’s jurisdiction over an accident in Iraq – which could invite other such lawsuits since Iraqi courts are held in low regard and damages are lower on average.

In this case, Judge William Duffey issued a November 5th ruling the ordered the lumpsum payment of $4,907,048.  For a copy of the opinion, click here

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