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Defense contractor ordered to pay millions to National Guard soldiers

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By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) – Defense contractor KBR was negligent in exposing National Guard soldiers to toxic chemicals at a water plant in Iraq, a federal jury in Portland, Oregon, found Friday.

The lawsuit was filed by a dozen National Guard soldiers, who accused the defense contractor of “knowingly” exposing them to the carcinogen hexavalent chromium while providing security to civilian workers at the Qarmat Ali water facility in 2003.

While the jury found KBR negligent in the case, it did not find that the contractor committed fraud.

The total judgment was more than $85 million. Each soldier was awarded $850,000 in noneconomic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages.

“The Oregon Qarmat Ali veterans are very pleased with the verdict,” said David Sugarman, one of the attorneys representing the 12 soldiers.

KBR attorney Geoffrey Harrison said the company, which was involved in the Iraqi facility’s restoration, would appeal.

“KBR did safe, professional and exceptional work in Iraq under difficult circumstances — and multiple U.S. Army officers testified under oath that KBR communicated openly and honestly about potential health risks.”

In their complaint, the soldiers said they suffer from respiratory and skin ailments as a result of the exposure and “now require ongoing, expensive follow-up health care.”

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer called the jury’s decision “an important milestone.”

“I’ve met with these brave soldiers and hearing their ordeal made me heartsick. They have clearly been damaged as a result of their service and negligence on the part of the contractor.”

CNN’s Carma Hassan and Greg Morrison contributed to this report.

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