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A lawsuit against military contractor KBR for the 2008 death of an Army Special Forces soldier will go forward, according to a ruling Tuesday by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

The federal appeals court rejected KBR’s request to dismiss the wrongful death suit, brought by Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth’s parents in 2008. Maseth was electrocuted in January 2008 while showering at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad, a facility maintained by KBR.

A Defense Department investigation concluded KBR did not properly ground the water pump which led to Maseth’s electrocution.

Prior to Maseth’s death, the company said it was never directed to perform repairs or upgrades in the building where he lived.

While the company has repeatedly denied responsibility for Maseth’s death, KBR’s attempts to dismiss the lawsuit were based on their claim that the company is immune from lawsuits under the “combatant activities” exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The appeals court upheld a 2009 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, which said the case didn’t involve active military combat operations.

“The issues presented by Plaintiffs’ claims involve the alleged negligent performance or non-performance of KBR in providing maintenance services to the United States Army. ... Accordingly, KBR’s motion to dismiss under the ‘combatant activities’ exception to the FTCA is denied,” according to the March 2009 ruling.

KBR also said the case constituted a political rather than legal issue, which would render it “non-justiciable,” also grounds for dismissal.

The appeals court disagreed, and the case now goes back to the U.S. District Court.

The suit seeks expended and punitive damages against KBR.

novakl@estripes.osd.mil

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