Mississippi High Court Sends Back Navy SEAL’s Wrongful Death Case to Circuit Court

By JACK ELLIOTT JR. | January 28, 2014

A jury in DeSoto County will hear the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a Navy SEAL killed during a training exercise at a northwest Mississippi shooting range.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Shapoor Alexander Ghane Jr. was killed in 2008 when a bullet fired during the exercise struck him in the chest, even though he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Authorities say the bullet first passed through a wall behind which Ghane was crouching and struck him through a gap in the vest.

The Navy said the incident occurred on Jan. 30, 2008 during a close-quarters combat training exercise at Mid-South Institute of Self-Defense Shooting in Lake Cormorant, near Walls in northwest Mississippi. The private facility has been used for training by the military and law enforcement agencies for years.

Ghane joined the Navy in June 2004 and entered SEAL training in November 2004 in Coronado, Calif. He joined the West Coast SEAL teams in June 2007.

Ghane’s mother, Narjess Ghane, filed the lawsuit in 2009 against Mid-South. She argued the wall through which the bullet passed was not bulletproof as intended. Mid-South built the wall for the training exercise.

In 2011, Circuit Judge Robert Chamberlin dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with Mid-South that the case would “require the trial court to question military policy and operational decisions, thus raising a nonjusticiable political question.”

Narjess Ghane appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. She argued the case was a tort action “based on the failure of the ballistic wall – a wall independently designed, constructed, and maintained by the defendants.”

Mid-South again countered that the Ghane’s arguments raised a political question not subject to court review because adjudication of the lawsuit would require the trial court to question military training decisions and strategies. The company argued the Navy bears some responsibility. The Navy was not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Court records show the Navy had exact requirements for the exercise because it wanted the SEALS to “train how they will fight.”

In a decision Jan. 16, the Mississippi court reversed the trial judge. It ruled Mid-South failed to show how matters of military policy and operational decisions were related to the cause of Ghane’s death.

“The question of causation comes down to the design, construction and maintenance of a ballistic wall at a rented training facility – conditions which were in place before the military took `operational control’ of the facility,” said Justice Anthony David Chandler, writing in the court’s 6-3 decision.

Chandler said court records showed that the Navy felt free to “practice like we will fight” because Mid-South had first represented that its training facility was designed to handle such practice safely and the wall was “capable of withstanding the ammunition used and the training tactics employed.”

In a dissent, Justice Ann Lamar said the lawsuit should be dismissed. She said the Navy didn’t instruct Mid-South on how to build the wall or tell the company what standards the wall should meet.

Lamar said once the SEALS arrived, they took over the facility and Mid-South had nothing to do with the training. She said there are questions whether the failure of the wall was the sole cause of Ghane’s death or whether the training decisions made by the Navy contributed to Ghane’s death.

She said the jury cannot address who is at fault without looking at decisions by both the Navy and Mid-South.

No trial date was set when the Supreme Court issued its decision last month.

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