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Lawyer: Military's housing choice irrelevant

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
Ryan D. Maseth, 24, of Shaler

A federal jury can determine whether a Defense contractor is responsible for the electrocution death of a Shaler soldier without second-guessing the military's choice of where to house troops in Iraq, a lawyer for the soldier's parents argued Tuesday.

The jury doesn't have to decide whether the Army made the right choice in housing Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, in a building with a substandard electrical system to determine whether KBR Inc. of Houston had the discretion to fix the water pump that electrocuted Maseth while he was taking a shower, said William Stickman.

If the jury decides the Army tied KBR's hands, “we simply lose,” he told a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was hearing oral arguments in the Downtown federal courthouse.

Cheryl Harris of Cranberry and Douglas Maseth of Allison Park want the appeals court to reinstate their lawsuit against KBR Inc. for the Jan. 2, 2008, death of their son at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer dismissed the lawsuit in July based on her finding that she couldn't rule on whether KBR caused Maseth's death without evaluating the Army's decision to house him and other soldiers in the building.

Stickman argued that KBR's contract with the military gave it the discretion to analyze and fix problems during service calls it made to the barracks before Maseth's death.

Lawrence Ebner, one of KBR's lawyers, argued there was no way for a jury to rule on whether KBR was responsible for Maseth's death without probing the military's decision.

Circuit Court Judge D. Michael Fisher questioned whether the case really requires the jury to determine whether the military made the right decision.

The case seems to come down to “was it KBR's fault, or was it the military's decision that led to Sgt. Maseth's electrocution,” he said.

Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith also said it seemed like a factual question rather than a policy question.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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