An American commercial mine clearance agency was engaged by the United Nations to remove landmines and unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan. Having completed its mission, the mine clearance agency declared the area free of all land mines and unexploded ordnance and the local civilian population returned to their land.
As part of its contract, the mine clearance agency had agreed to clear all surface and sub-surface land mines and unexploded ordnance down to a depth of 3.2 feet (1 meter) below ground level. However, due to inadequate training, those responsible for the clearance operation cleared down to a depth of only 1.6 feet (0.5 meters). Such a failure resulted in two members of the local community being killed and several others injured when they detonated a mine while clearing an irrigation ditch. The resulting local backlash saw the agency's compound stormed by villagers and a number of vehicles burned before local police restored order.
During the subsequent investigation, a UN employee detonated a further mine in the same area resulting in the individual losing both legs below the knee.
The UN employee and the families of those killed and injured by the first explosion brought a class action against the agency in Washington, D.C. alleging negligence and professional negligence on its part. The agency contested the case; however, the court held that the agency had held itself out as an expert in mine clearance and owed a duty of care to those within the area to perform the contractual services required of it was liable to those that were injured and killed.
This is a tragic case. However, companies operating in hostile environments need to anticipate that the worst may happen. The scope of responsibility that a contractor ought to realistically accept is one key factor to be cognizant of.
Also, when an incident arises and liabilities occur, be mindful of the benefits of having on hand professional advisors that can work with you to manage the incident, compensate those that have suffered loss and can work with you to bring the matter to a close.