The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Injury Benefits A Casualty Of War For Private Contractors

The quality of care provided to deployed US soldiers was heavily scrutinized when photos and testimony of appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were revealed three years ago. Conditions have improved since then, according to the Arizona Daily Star. 

That's good news for the roughly 280,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (based on 2009 figures). But what about the estimated 242,000 non-military private contractors serving side-by-side with soldiers, often in similarly dangerous conditions?

It turns out that the employees of private contractors assisting US military operations (and their families) often lose out when they are injured or killed, according to a new University of Illinois study cited by Medical News Today. Contractors, the study suggests, routinely "use the veil of government immunity and other war-related legal arguments" to limit, or even deny workers compensation payouts.

The study is based on analysis of lawsuits filed by injured contractors and the survivors of those killed while in duty.  

If the above figures are accurate, that means nearly half of those working in war zones (who are not in the US armed forces) are subject to private contractors' alleged stinginess when they are killed or injured. Illinois employment lawyer and U of I labor professor Michael LeRoy, who published the study, explains:

"It's not that no compensation is provided; it's that a pittance is provided. People deserve ample opportunities for compensation when they are under the supervision of for-profit companies doing business with taxpayer money."

He claims that a legal principle traditionally used to bar tort recovery for military injuries and a contractor immunity doctrine exempting firms from liability in most cases shields war-related contractors from paying damages they otherwise would have to pay if the same injuries happened in the United States. 

The good news is that a growing number of workers compensation judges are deciding not to enforce the legal doctrine, according to Michael LeRoy's research, allowing survivor lawsuits and other injury claims to proceed.

If you have questions regarding workers' compensation, meeting with an Illinois employment lawyer could prove to be useful. For more information, please visit our Related Resources links.

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