Lawsuit names Halliburton, subsidiaries in soldiers’ deaths
RAF MILDENHALL, England — The families of two 1st Armored Division soldiers killed in 2004 in Iraq are awaiting their day in court more than two years after filing a lawsuit against Halliburton and its subsidiaries for their alleged role in the soldiers’ deaths.
The suit, seeking undisclosed damages, was filed in 2005 by the families of Sgt. James G. West and Spc. Dana N. Wilson. It is now making its way through U.S. District Court against the military’s chief contractor, KBR Inc., its former parent company, and a host of foreign-owned logistics companies. A court date has not been set.
West, 34, of Watertown, N.Y., and Wilson, 26, of Fountain, Colo., died in July 2004 in a head-on collision while conducting a convoy along the so-called Main Supply Route Tampa, the primary artery connecting Baghdad with Kuwait.
An Army investigation showed that an Iraqi man driving a tractor-trailer in a northbound military convoy lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center line on a narrow stretch of road and collided with a southbound Humvee, killing West and Wilson.
The soldiers served with the Baumholder-based 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery.
The lawsuit — provided to Stars and Stripes by a Houston-based attorney representing the families — alleges that KBR and its then-parent company Halliburton were responsible for the driver and his actions, and that the companies were negligent.
The family members named in the suit declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Attorneys representing Halliburton and KBR did not return calls for information. Halliburton representatives did not answer questions submitted by Stars and Stripes in an e-mail. KBR representatives wrote, “As a matter of practice, KBR does not comment on ongoing litigation,” in an e-mail to Stripes.
Halliburton and KBR are defended partly by the Texas-based law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which counts Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph W. Giuliani as a senior partner. Giuliani is not listed as an attorney on any of the court documents.
If it goes to trial, a Texas jury will be called on to assess military tactics in a combat zone and the practices of one of America’s largest war-zone contractors.
Halliburton is a multinational firm that employs 104,000 people worldwide and totaled $3.4 billion in profits last year, according to a Forbes.com profile. It moved its headquarters from Houston to Dubai earlier this year.
The lawsuit also will likely pit the Army’s version of events detailed in a 1st AD accident report and a separate Army criminal probe against Halliburton’s in deciding who was at fault, and possibly liable, for the deadly accident.
An abridged version of the 1st AD report included in court documents states “Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) and parent organization Halliburton were unable to explain the qualification and training of their vehicle operators in Iraq.”
The 1st AD report also found the convoy, including the tractor-trailer, was driving too fast for road conditions and that the “convoy commander was negligent.” The Halliburton vehicles were escorted by a National Guard military police unit, which was “negligent in establishing and reinforcing a reasonable speed.”
A court document listing potential people of interest in the suit includes more than a dozen military members, including then-1st AD commander Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. Dempsey now oversees Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.
The attorney leading the lawsuit, Hartley Hampton, said the Army’s bureaucracy slowed his request for information. “We had to do FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for all the Army investigation and it took many months to cut through the red tape,” Hampton wrote to Stripes in an e-mail. “The Army let an awful lot of evidence get away.”
The Army and its Criminal Investigation Command would not comment on the case, telling Stripes that it would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request for information related to the soldiers’ deaths.
It’s not clear when, or if, the suit might go to trial, but the plaintiffs have demanded a jury trial, according to court documents.
Hartley filed the suit in 2005 on behalf of West’s mother, Linda Webster, his wife, Jennifer West and their two sons as well as Wilson’s mother, Katherine Spears.
Court records from the U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas indicate that Halliburton contends the accident was the result of speed, the conduct of the convoy’s military escort as well as a too-narrow supply route constructed by the military.
“A speed that was not set by the civilian truck driver, but by the military escort accompanying the convoy,” court documents state.
An unsuccessful defense motion to dismiss the suit in September 2005 stated that a medevac ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive on the accident scene, “a response that was described as slow by multiple witnesses.”
But the 1st AD accident report quotes then-1st Lt. Chad Swaims, who treated West and Wilson at the scene, as saying “even if these injuries had occurred in a trauma Operating Room, I don’t think they could have been saved.”
The motion also argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over questions relating to military decision-making in combat situations: “Plaintiffs’ Petition in this case inevitably requires this Court to second-guess and substitute its judgment for the United States military’s decision-making in the conduct of the war in Iraq,” the motion states.
There is little mention of the Iraqi driver who allegedly caused the accident. The driver is listed only as a “local national” in court documents.