Fisher v. Halliburton: Fifth Circuit Invokes Common Sense To Defend Defense Base Act

In March 2010, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the deaths and injuries sustained by a group of civilian convoy drivers in Iraq during insurgent attacks were not “accidents” caused by conditions of their employment and were, therefore, outside the scope of the protections afforded to contractors by the Defense Base Act (“DBA”). 42 U.S.C. § 1651, et seq. Fisher v. Halliburton, 703 F. Supp. 2d. 639 (S.D. Tex. 2010). We previously described and criticized the district court decision in this blog, noting that it was now unclear how, exactly, the DBA would fare in future litigation. But on January 12, 2012, the Fifth Circuit restored clarity— and common sense—to the application of the DBA by recognizing that the facts in Fisher presented “the quintessential case of a compensable injury arising from a third party’s assault”. Holding the DBA to be the exclusive remedy for damages, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. Fisher v. Halliburton, 2012 WL 90136 (5th Cir. 2012).

The Fifth Circuit efficiently disposed of the district court’s decision, beginning with a determination that the third party, i.e., insurgent, acts were directed against Plaintiffs “because of [their] employment.” Forcefully disagreeing with the district court’s conclusion that the employees were targeted for simply being Americans and not because they were providing logistical support to the U.S. Military, the court cautioned that such reasoning threatened the applicability of the DBA “on foreign soil” or to “those that support a war.” Moreover, the court stated, if the reasoning of the district court were sustained, then “[t]he argument could always be asserted that an employee was killed or injured not because of her employment, but because she was an American.” Accordingly, the circuit court found it to be “self evident” and “a matter of common sense that when insurgent forces in Iraq attack an Army-led fuel supply convoy, the insurgents are attacking the convoy because of its role in supporting the Army’s operations in that country.”

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