Q: (LawyersandSettlements) How can I qualify for an open pit burn claim?
A: (Ben Stewart) First, you must have worked (or you are working) as a government contractor or military at a base that had an open pit burn and (currently) show symptoms of respiratory or skin distress. However, medical evidence and some studies are linking other symptoms such as internal disorders—including cancers and endocrine disorders—to open burn pit exposure.
Next, scientific testimony must meet the Daubert standard, i.e., rule of evidence regarding the admissibility of expert witnesses' testimony (Click wikipedia for more information). So if you are exposed to smoke and fumes and you have skin rashes or respiratory problems, you can likely link them. However, there is much medical testimony not yet proved in court, yet falls under the Daubert standard, such as internal cancers.
Take lead poisoning, for instance. Young children lick the lead paint from their toys and years later they develop learning problems, but no skin or respiratory issues. Since we don't know exactly what are in these burn pits, you have to assume they were the cause of an illness. Look at asbestos diseases: mesothelioma can take decades to manifest. And at this point, many doctors may not recognize open pit burn symptoms; many doctors are not experienced with toxicity.
Q: (LAS) What should someone do first if they have symptoms or even suspect respiratory problems from toxic fumes?
A: (Ben Stewart) Seek medical attention first. If you were exposed to smoke (and you may not have been aware at the time as some smoke is invisible); if you have returned home or are still stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan—or anywhere with open burn pits—and are experiencing strange or abnormal health problems, speak with an experienced attorney.
Q: (LAS) What are the symptoms of toxic exposure to open pit burns?
A: (Ben Stewart) The most common complaints are skin rashes and respiratory problems. Exposure to smoke causes a number of "minor" symptoms, such as headaches, nausea and eye irritation. Upper respiratory issues include coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, runny nose, shortness of breath and chest pain. More severe and chronic symptoms include: heart problems, lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. A number of troops have experienced digestive and intestinal problems and some required large lesions in their abdominal cavities be surgically removed.
Q: (LAS) What information do you need from me to submit a claim?
A: (Ben Stewart) I need to know where you were stationed and when. We are seeing people exposed to toxic burn pit fumes mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in other countries. I need to know your medical condition—what your physician(s) believe is a result of your exposure.
Q: (LAS) Is there a statute of limitations?
A: (Ben Stewart) Yes, but at this point we don't know what it is because we are too early in the litigation, but I can tell you that time is of the essence. If a cover-up is involved in your claim [allegedly, KBR knew of the dangers of the toxins but kept using the open pit burn as an economic measure rather than build incinerators], fraud applies and in that case, there are no limitations. The cut-off date has not been set by the court but I advise you to file a claim sooner than later.
Q: (LAS) You are based in Florida. To find an attorney, does it matter where I live?
A: (Ben Stewart) No, we can represent you no matter where you live.
Q: (LAS) How can I find out which company was controlling the burn pit near my unit?
A: (Ben Stewart) Seek legal representation and that will be part of the discovery process. We are finding out who is responsible through the discovery process and government offices.
Q: (LAS) Who are you going after?
A: (Ben Stewart) KBR and Halliburton mainly, and a number of lesser contractors
Q: (LAS) What is the government doing about closing open burn pits?
A: (Ben Stewart) President Obama and Congress have been made aware of the situation through lawsuits and the VA. They are working on passing house bills, i.e, legislation, to ensure that this situation does not continue.
Q: (LAS) How is the VA helping our troops?
A: (Ben Stewart) Currently the VA hospitals and VA doctors are treating the symptoms of people who have been exposed; they are trying to deal with the outcome of these health situations due to toxic exposure.
Q: (LAS) I collect VA benefits and I also get benefits from a private health insurer. Does that matter?
A: (Ben Stewart) No.
Q: (LAS) How many military are at risk?
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Q: (LAS) How much will it cost for legal representation?
A: (Ben Stewart) Legal representation is being done on a contingency basis, therefore there is no cost to the claimant unless a recovery is made.
Attorney Ben Stewart is an experienced prosecutor, municipal magistrate and civil trial lawyer dedicated to handling cases of people harmed by professional negligence. In addition to a full research and associate staff, Stewart contracts other professionals, from virtually every field of specialized law, including open pit burn expert witnesses.