Sunday, June 1, 2008

Parents' Lawsuit Over Pittsburgh Soldier's Death

Defense contractor KBR is asking a local federal judge to toss out a wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of a Pittsburgh area solider electrocuted in Iraq.

Green Beret Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth was electrocuted while taking a shower at a base in Iraq. His parents want to know what KBR and the government knew -- and when -- about electrocution dangers from the wiring at his base in Baghdad. They also want to know if Maseth's death was preventable.

In its motion, KBR argues that the Maseth's case:

"raises inherently political questions involving... military policy level and tactical decision making ... and the direction the military provided to KBR regarding needed repair work."

KBR's filing also cites the:

"combatant activities exemption" which "shields the U.S. government" and "...has also been interpreted to protect the military's defense contractors, like KBR".

When informed of KBR's motion, Congressman Jason Altmire told me:

"I think to argue that you should as a contractor have the right to ignore a known problem and suffer no consequences as a result when your inaction causes death is a pretty faulty argument. And to say that contractors should have some sort of exemption away from this type of activity i think is ludicrous."

Here's a Pittsburgh Channel link to my Channel 4 Action News story that aired on Memorial Day.

Since my story aired, CNN's investigative unit has reported that it's obtained documents dealing with the electrical problems that led to his death.

CNN reports the following on its website:

"....Army documents obtained by CNN show that U.S.-paid contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) inspected the building and found serious electrical problems a full 11 months before Maseth was electrocuted. "

"KBR noted 'several safety issues concerning the improper grounding of electrical devices.' But KBR's contract did not cover 'fixing potential hazards.' It covered repairing items only after they broke down. "

"Only after Maseth died did the Army issue an emergency order for KBR to finally fix the electrical problems, and that order was carried out soon thereafter."

Here's a link to CNN's online video.

In April, U.S. Senator Bob Casey called for a GAO Investigation into Electrocution-Related Deaths in Iraq.

Here are two New York Times stories on the controversy...

Despite Alert, Flawed Wiring Still Kills G.I.’s - New York Times

G.I.’s Death Prompts 2 Inquiries of Iraq Electrocutions - New York Times

...and an article from Editor and Publisher.

KBR has said that it was providing repair services at the facility in response to Army requests at the time of Ryan Maseth's death. The company's spokesperson e-mailed this statement to me:

"KBR's top priority is the safety and security of its employees and the customers the company serves."

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with Staff Sgt. Maseth's family."


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