Mom of soldier electrocuted in base shower hails Supreme Court ruling

Sgt. Ryan Maseth
Sgt. Ryan Maseth

Mom of soldier electrocuted in base shower hails Supreme Court ruling

by: The Associated Press | .
The Associated Press | .
published: January 23, 2015

PITTSBURGH — The mother of a Pittsburgh-area soldier electrocuted in his barracks shower at a U.S. Army base in Iraq seven years ago says she's grateful the Supreme Court rejected three appeals by a military contractor seeking to stop the case and other lawsuits from going forward.

The high court offered no comment Tuesday in allowing three lawsuits against KBR Inc. over the electrocution and open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan to proceed. The parents of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who was electrocuted in his barracks shower in January 2008, filed one of the lawsuits.

The suit alleges a KBR unit was legally responsible for what it says was shoddy electrical work common in Iraqi-built structures taken over by the U.S. military. KBR disputes the claim.

Cheryl Harris, Maseth's mother, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday that she never expected it to take more than seven years after her son's death to get the case closer to a trial.

"I'm grateful that we're here," she said.

Mark Lowes, KBR's vice president of litigation, said the company contends it wasn't responsible for installing the water pump. He also said the company had warned the military about unsafe buildings two years earlier, but the Pentagon declined to retrofit them.

"The reality of our system is that the only one Mrs. Harris can sue is KBR," he said. "The real story is why is the government sitting on its thumbs and not 'fessing up."

Dozens of lawsuits by soldiers and others assert they were harmed by improper waste disposal while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They seek to hold KBR and Halliburton Co. responsible. They say soldiers were exposed to toxic emissions and contaminated water when waste was burned in open pits without proper safety controls.

The contractors say they cannot be sued because they essentially were operating in war zones as an extension of the military.

The Obama administration agreed with the contractors that lower courts should have dismissed the lawsuits, but said the Supreme Court shouldn't get involved now because lower courts still could dismiss or narrow the claims.