Judge overturns $4.9M award in Iraq death of Ohio soldier
A federal judge struck down a $4.9 million judgment awarded to survivors of an Ohio soldier killed by a foreign defense contractor in a 2003 traffic accident in Iraq.
U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr., in Georgia’s Northern District, considered additional evidence in the lawsuit filed by the parents of Lt. Col. Dominic “Rocky” Baragona Jr. against Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co. The judge determined he did not have jurisdiction and overturned his earlier ruling in the case legal experts say highlights deficiencies in the government contracting system.
Duffey initially ruled against KGL after the contractor’s attorneys failed to appear for hearings. Although the case was filed in Georgia because of KGL’s extensive financial dealings there with the U.S. Army Command, KGL attorneys argued it had nothing to do with the state because KGL was working on a World Food Program contract for the United Nations when the May 19, 2003, accident occurred.
Dominic Baragona Sr., the soldier’s father, called the ruling “bad news” and said he and his wife, Vilma, plan to appeal. Their attorney, Steven Perles, said the outcome “was not unexpected.”
“We will be looking at the issue of whether the company can sit on the sidelines for years and then come in at the last minute after a decision is reached,” Perles said.
KGL attorney David Hammond did not respond to a request for comment.
Rocky Baragona, 42, died of injuries suffered when the Humvee he was riding in collided with a tractor-trailer driven by an Egyptian national working for KGL. The court called the contractor’s conduct in the case “indignant and callous” because KGL received “unquantifiable benefits” from U.S. troops but turned a blind eye to a service member’s death caused by a KGL employee.
The elder Baragona said the ruling would not affect proposed legislation named after his son by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
“In fact, it shows how important it is to get the bill passed,” he said in an e-mail to the Tribune-Review.
The Lt. Col. Dominic “Rocky” Baragona Justice for American Heroes Harmed by Contractors Act would require government contractors to let U.S. courts decide disputes arising from contracts. If it becomes law, it could affect other cases, including a lawsuit filed against Houston-based defense contractor KBR Inc. by the parents of Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a Shaler Green Beret electrocuted in his Iraq shower last year.