Soldier's death prompts lawsuit

May 27, 2008 at 5:28 PM
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PITTSBURGH, May 27 (UPI) -- The electrocution of a Pittsburgh soldier in a shower in Iraq has set off the latest round of questions about military contractors in the war.

KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary, is asking a federal judge to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who died in January while taking a shower at an army post. He is one of more than a dozen U.S. soldiers killed by electrocution in Iraq, according to WTAE Channel 4 Action News in Pittsburgh.

The Maseth lawsuit alleges that KBR knew about dangerous, faulty electrical systems at Iraq military bases but didn't fix problems or warn soldiers of hazards. An Army investigation found that his death was due to improper grounding of the electric pump that supplied water to the building, wrote U.S Rep. Henry Waxman D-Ca., in a March letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting documents related to military contractors.

But KBR's court filing says the 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." The 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," according to WTAE.

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