Inter Law – personal injury settlement

Hundreds of veterans who witnessed nuclear tests in the 1950s, have seen their claim for compensation in doubt due to existing laws on personal injury claims.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has indicated that it will use the defence of limitation to dispute claims for compensation over radiation sickness and other more serious related illnesses. This would prevent the case, thought to be the largest group compensation case for personal injury against the MOD, from reaching court because the law states the claims for personal injury must be made within 3 years of recieving an injury.

700 of the claimants witnessed the tests, held in the South Pacific, during the cold war to develop nuclear deterrents against the Russians. However the exposure they recieved during the tests has since been linked to a range of illnesses experienced by the veterans including a range of cancers, leukaemia, tooth rot, and mental illness.

It wasn’t until the 1970s when the first links were made and now the veterans believe they were used as human guinea pigs to assess the impact of radiation on humans. This is something that the MOD disputes. They believe that because the effects were unknown it was impossible to understand what adequate precautions were required, so therefore are exempt from liability for any claim.

In a statement released to BBC news 24 it said: “When compensation claims are received they are considered on the basis of whether or not the Ministry of Defence has a legal liability to pay compensation. Where there is a proven legal liability compensation is paid.”

Bob Malcolmson remembers the explosions well and unfortunately will never be able to forget them as the effects have blighted his life since 1974, when he was diagnosed with polycythemia, a rare form of blood cancer linked to radiation exposure. He believes no action was taken to protect him and others, with his assignment to check the effects of radiation on radio equipment.

He said: “”The explosion was tremendous. They actually heard it in Australia 200 miles away from the islands. We turned our backs, covered our eyes with our hands. I had my eyes open and I could see the bones in my hands, even with my back to this thing.”

A new document releases under the Offical Secrets Act in 1953 re-opened the dispute over MOD liability, after it appeared to state intention, according to Rosenblatt Solictors representing the veterans, to expose them to radiation.

It reads: “The Army must discover the detailed effects of various types of explosion on equipment, stores and men, with and without various types of protection.”

However, Lorna Arnold, the official historian of the British nuclear tests, interprets this document differently, claiming the British government had no intention of carrying out tests on men.

Ms Arnold claims that section referred to tests carried out on models. These were placed in various positions at the test site, with instruments put on them to measure the amount of radiation and blast they received. This practice has been historically verified and is not under dispute.

Yet knowingly or not, hundreds of men had their lives ruined by being exposed to the radiation and with 50 more veterans dying each year, often from complications arising over the illnesses, the court’s decision to decide if the case can be brought in 2009, will come too late for some of them.

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