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New trial ordered in Schofield soldier training death

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:48 p.m. HST, Mar 8, 2013

The family of a 27-year-old Schofield Barracks solider killed when a mortar misfired at the Pohakuloa Training Area will get another chance to recover money from the manufacturer that assembled the mortar round.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals set aside this week a jury verdict that found General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Inc. was not liable for causing the explosion.

 The court ordered a new trial.

Staff Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez was killed in the March 10, 2006 explosion. 

His family was joined in the suit by two other soliders injured and the family of another injured solider, Wilfredo Dayandante who died in 2009.

General Dynamics contended that operator error caused the blast.

The soldiers and their families claimed the mortar round exploded prematurely because of a manufacturing defect.

In a 2-1 ruling Thursday, the majority said the trial judge erred in allowing the testimony of a General Dynamics witness, an Army investigator.

The majority said the investigator was not certified as an expert, but allowed to present “specialized and highly technical testimony about the cause of the explosion.”

The dissenting judge said the admission of the investigator’s testimony was harmless because it could have been admitted as expert testimony.

When the verdict was returned in 2010, General Dynamics said it had offered $5.1 million to settle all claims, but the plaintiffs sought $29 million.

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