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DC Team Prevails in High Exposure Class Action; Plaintiffs Seek $2B in Damages and Injunctive Relief

June 5, 2015

A commercial litigation team from Wilson Elser’s Washington, DC, office joined with other defense counsel to defeat on appeal a $2 billion class action brought by 32 plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and an estimated 10,000 similarly situated defense-contractor employees or former employees injured while working in work-zone areas in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defendants included 17 defense contractors and four insurance companies. The team was led by Robert Wallace (Partner-Washington, DC) and David Ross (Partner-Washington, DC) and was supported by Betsy Sandza (Partner-Washington, DC), Kathleen Warin (Partner-Washington, DC), and Kevin Farrell (Of Counsel-Washington, DC). Wilson Elser represented one of the defendant defense contractors.

A panel of the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the U.S. District Court’s dismissal of the class-wide tort, RICO and Longshore Act claims. The panel found the tort claims were barred by the exclusivity of the Defense Base Act and Longshore Act. The RICO claims were similarly barred, as well as deficiently plead. The Longshore Act claims were precluded due to the plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

The plaintiffs sought $2 billion in damages as well as preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to require 17 international defense contractors and four insurers “to comply with their legal obligation here and around the world, as to all past, present, and future individuals who work in support of America’s wars.” The complaint alleged that the defendants failed, delayed, cut off, misrepresented, or otherwise interfered with the provision of medical benefits and other benefits owed to them under the Defense Base Act. The plaintiffs also alleged they were terminated, threatened, discouraged, or otherwise retaliated against for asserting their rights to recovery of benefits. The plaintiffs asserted nine different counts of discrimination and retaliatory discharge.

While the judge acknowledged that the plaintiff class suffered severe injuries, he did say that “[t]he statutory scheme represents a 'legislated compromise between the interests of employees and the concerns of employers,'” Judge Sentelle said. “The statutory text codifies this legislative compromise by making statutory remedies exclusive.”

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