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London Free Press Business Section:


Family seeks $1.85M in friendly fire suit

CP   2004-01-16 03:36:40  

HALIFAX -- The family of a Canadian soldier killed by an American pilot in an accidental bombing in Afghanistan will seek close to $2 million US in compensation for the death, their lawyer said yesterday. Dick Murtha, who represents the mother of Pte. Richard Green, said he will file a claim for $1.85 million on behalf of Green's mother, Doreen Coolen, Green's close friend, Michael MacDonald, and Green's estate.

The money would be divided among the three, with $1.45 million going to the slain soldier's estate, $350,000 for Coolen and $50,000 for MacDonald.

Murtha, a lawyer in Lower Sackville, N.S., is also hoping that he might avoid taking the case through the U.S. Federal Court if he can secure special compensation from the U.S. government.

The compensation, known as ex gratia payments, has often been awarded to the families of people killed in accidental bombings by U.S. forces and carries no liability or suggestion of guilt.

"We feel there's precedent for this," Murtha said. "It was not done in this case and it is shameful. The right thing to happen would be for the government of the United States to agree to make ex gratia payments and get everyone looked after."

Murtha is hoping to enlist support from Ottawa to press American officials to consider the compensation, which could go through the U.S. Congress.

It's not clear how much the U.S. government might award to any of the families of the four Canadian soldiers who were killed in April 2002 when an American pilot mistook them for enemy forces and dropped a 225-kilogram bomb on their practice range near Kandahar.

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said seeking any kind of financial compensation through ex gratia payments is likely the best bet for the Canadians since there are precedents and the amounts can be substantial.

"It won't be petty cash," the lawyer said from his office in Washington, D.C. "A lawsuit intuitively is not likely to be productive, but I think the request for ex gratia is the more appropriate way to go."

Murtha said he expected any ex gratia payment would come close to the nearly $2 million he will seek through the court. He says he would consider abandoning the legal action if ex gratia payments were made.

In a brief to be filed with the U.S. government, Murtha cites several international cases in which ex gratia payments were made after American forces attacked allies and civilians.

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