Army deafness claims may cost £1bn after new ruling

 

The Minister for Defence, Mr Smith, has suggested that the scope for further tax reductions will have to be re-examined in the light of a new formula for assessing damages in Army deafness cases adopted by the High Court yesterday. He also announced that the State would appeal to the Supreme Court the decision by Mr Justice Johnson to award £50,575 to Pte Kevin Hanley (35), who currently suffers a 9 per cent hearing disability. The Minister, clearly angry, said that on the basis of the judgment the total required to settle all of the outstanding hearing-loss claims could reach £1 billion.

While the decision was still being examined, "it would appear that the scope for tax reductions will have to be re-examined". The judge ruled that the formula in the so-called Green Book - the report of a State-established expert group setting standards for hearing loss in Army cases - gave merely "a still photograph of the impairment" at any given moment.

But in the formula, he said, there was no provision for future deterioration caused by a combination of noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss.

Mr Justice Johnson said if one had a formula worked out scientifically that would give a reasonably accurate prognosis as to what the condition of the plaintiff would be in the future, that formula should be taken.

Pte Hanley, from Old Cork Road, Limerick, had suffered a 7 per cent disability plus 2 per cent for tinnitus. In addition, added the judge, when he reached 60 he would suffer from a further 12 per cent disability, making 22 per cent by the age of 60.

In the "test case", Mr Justice Johnson assessed Pte Hanley's 9 per cent disability at £24,750 currently. But taking into account the further 12 per cent disability at 60, the soldier was awarded £50,575.

Yesterday's judgment also ruled out any hope of a short-term solution such as a compensation board or other settlement scheme, the Minister said.

"We could be looking at over 17 years to finalise the cases on hands if the cases are processed individually through the courts," he said in a statement.

The Minister said he was pleased that Mr Justice Johnson accepted the Green Book as a fair and reasonable system for measuring hearing disability.

He also noted the judge's rationale for developing a method for dealing with age-related hearing loss, "although no such methodology is generally included in other international systems for measuring hearing disability".

Mr Smith said: "I am disappointed at the amount of compensation and the way it is structured." It would appear that the tariff set out in yesterday's judgment represented a multiple of the level implied by Mr Justice Lavan's earlier judgment in the Greene case.

Using that tariff would result in a total cost of around £200 million.