A lawsuit filed against Blackwater USA, a private security firm, for the wrongful deaths of four employees who were killed while working in Iraq will move forward in North Carolina state court following attempts by the company to move the case to federal court.
The lawsuit was first filed in January of last year by the families of four men who were killed in Fallujah in one of the uglier incidents in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency. ABC News first reported on the suit in April of last year.
The four American civilians were guarding a food supplies convoy when they took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of Fallujah, which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity. The men were shot, dragged from their vehicles, their bodies set on fire and hung from a bridge.
In the lawsuit, the families of the men say Blackwater cut corners in protecting them by not complying with safety requirements outlined in the company's contract for the mission. For example, Blackwater sent the men out in unarmored vehicles, rather than the safer and more expensive armored vehicles. Lawyers for the families contend that Blackwater simply pocketed the difference in cost between the armored and unarmored vehicles.
Also under the contract for the mission, there were supposed to be six men in the detail, three for each car, but Blackwater only sent two men for each car, leaving the rear gunner lookout post empty, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.
The lawsuit also alleges that Blackwater failed to provide maps or radio contact with the U.S. military, which may explain why the convoy missed the critical turn that morning. Instead of taking the road around Fallujah, they ended up in one of the most dangerous places in the world for an American.
Blackwater is just one of many private security firms operating in Iraq with little government oversight. Its owner, Erik Prince, is a major Republican campaign contributor and his company has received more than $85 million worth of U.S. government contracts. Over 20 Blackwater employees have been killed in Iraq. The company has not returned calls seeking comment.
Now that the case has been returned to state court in North Carolina, where Blackwater is based, lawyers for the families hope they can go to trial within a year.
"This case should have already gone to trial," said Marc Miles who represents the families, "but we've had a year and a half of unnecessary delays by Blackwater."