Those of you who are familiar with Alma Law and my blog will know that we specialise in Military Claims including Non-Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI) claims. In actual fact more than a dozen years ago I represented a soldier in one of the very first successful NFCI claims against the MOD. The MOD has known for decades that some of our troops are particularly vulnerable to developing an NFCI and yet hundreds have been affected by this easily avoidable injury and their careers ruined. Why and how is covered in an earlier blog ‘I have a Non-Freezing Cold Injury. Will it affect my military career?’
Delay Delay Delay
It remains the attitude of the MOD claims handlers to frustrate and delay an NFCI case; an approach which causes an injured veteran, and their family, huge physical, emotional and financial strain. Repeated invitations to resolve a meritous case far sooner, thus saving costs (money!), are time and again unheeded. It’s incredibly exasperating. I can’t recall a single case in recent years in which I haven’t had to start very expensive court proceedings against the MOD in order to get them to come to the negotiating table. Few will know beforehand that it actually costs an individual Claimant upwards of £10,000 just to issue court proceedings in a typical military NFCI claim.
I have known for a good while that despite this defiance, the MOD does eventually settle NFCI claims, but at great cost, so to test that knowledge, a few weeks ago I served them with a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Their replies, which I received today, are both staggering and troubling.
Between 31stAugust 2012 and 31stMarch 2017*, the MOD:
- Settled 485 NFCI claims and £26.6million was paid in damages
- £17.5million was paid in legal fees to Claimant lawyers for NFCI claims – this will include the cost of medical experts, barristers’ fees, court fees, VAT (20% back to the taxman) and other legal expenses
- £6.4million was paid to the lawyers instructed by the MOD
- During the same period, the MOD received notification of 716 new claims. How many claims does there need to be before someone starts asking questions?
The total paid out was £50,482,538.
Because they routinely delay and fight these claims, I also asked the MOD to tell me how many claims they actually defended to a trial on liability. The answer?
None. Not a single one.
The point I hope to make here is that despite paying out over £26million in compensation to veterans who had negligently suffered Non-Freezing Cold Injuries during their military service, the MOD paid close to £24million defending NFCI cases.
It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that huge savings could be made by:
- Putting the injured soldier/veteran at the centre of this whole process
- Complying with the Civil Procedure Rules – a Defendant, and the MOD is no different, has just 3-months after receiving a letter of claim to send back a decision on liability. I would almost always agree to a request for a little more time but ultimately, no decision whatsoever equals more cost
- Disclosing promptly all relevant documents
- Cooperating and collaborating with the Claimants lawyer
- Agreeing to attempt an early resolution of the case before costs escalate – in my opinion, court proceedings should be a last resort
I will continue to impress upon the MOD the need to get real, to do right by its injured troops and, dare I say it, to adhere to the spirit of the Armed Forces Covenant.
The view from the outside is of a cottage industry and it’s no surprise that there is now a glut of law firms laying claim to expertise in NFCI claims, so choosing a knowledgeable solicitor or lawyer must be a real headache for an unfortunately injured soldier. Choose wisely guys.
Grant is a former British Army Commando. He has specialised in military claims for almost two decades and he is an authority in this complex area.
*these are the most up to date figures