Iraqi TranslatorsPractice Area: Human Rights
Cohen Milstein represents the families of 9 Iraqi translators who were brutally murdered. The men signed up to assist the United States military during the war against Saddam Hussein and were employed by a military subcontractor, Sallyport. The job was an extraordinarily dangerous one: Iraqi interpreters working for the United States were at the top of militia hit lists, leading the job of translating Arabic for the U.S. military to be labeled “one of the most dangerous civilian jobs in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.” Tragically, the Sallyport bus transporting the men was ambushed by insurgents who shot the translators execution style and dumped their bodies around Basra as a warning against working with the Americans.
The United States has an insurance scheme (pursuant to the Defense Base Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1651 et seq) designed to compensate families in situations like this. Unfortunately, agents of the insurer, Continental Casualty Insurer (CNA), filed claims with the Department of Labor wrongly asserting that the translators had no dependents, even though CNA’s own internal investigation confirmed that each translator had suppported his elderly parents and that the parents were entitled to death benefits. Indeed, CNA’s investigator had met with the families, collected evidence of dependency, promised to work on their behalf, and assured the survivors that compensation would be forthcoming.
Instead of filing claims on behalf of the families as promised, CNA’s attorneys falsely told the Department of Labor that no death benefits were due and went so far as to withhold from the Department of Labor the pages of CNA’s own investigation reports that identified the parents as dependents -- an action the Claimants allege constitutes fraud or abuse. The Department of Labor, relying on the misleading and intentionally incomplete paperwork, issued a “compensation order” finding no compensation was due. As a result, the parents of the murdered translators did not receive the death benefits provided by US law.
Eventually, the parents were able to find attorneys in the United States. Cohen Milstein moved to modify the compensation order so that the parents could recover. In the meantime, the surviving parents, many of whom are widows without other sources of income, have struggled with poverty. One of the widowed mothers has already lost her home because her son had paid the rent.
CNA attorneys argued on a variety of procedural grounds that the Court should not hear the parents’ claims and moved for summary decision to get the claims dismissed. Cohen Milstein cross-moved for summary decision, arguing the claims should be heard and that there was no genuine dispute that the parents are entitled to benefits.
Cohen Milstein also asked the Court to refer the case to the Department of Labor Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs (OWCP) for an investigation of Defendants for fraud or abuse pursuant to Section 31(c) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act , which provides that:
an employer, his duly authorized agent, or an employee of an insurance carrier who knowingly and willfully makes a false statement or representation for the purpose of reducing, denying, or terminating benefits to an injured employee, or his dependents . . . shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000, by imprisonment not to exceed five years, or by both.
On May 19, 2011, the Court found for the parents on all counts, finding the claims were timely and the parents entitled to benefits. The Court also referred the matter for investigation of fraud or abuse, as Cohen Milstein had requested.
U.S. insurer faces criminal probe over Iraqis' unpaid death benefits
The Los Angeles Times
May 23, 2011
U.S. Insurance Firm Neglects Survivors of Iraqi Translators, May Face Criminal Charges
May 23, 2011
Chicago-based insurer CNA Financial faces criminal probe over Iraqis' unpaid death benefits
May 23, 2011