UK court rules veterans can sue over atomic testing radiation illness

[JURIST] Britain's High Court of Justice [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Friday that military veterans involved in nuclear tests have the right to sue the Ministry of Defense (MOD) [official website] for injuries resulting from exposure to radiation. The tests carried out by the British Government in Australia and on Pacific islands between October 1952 and September 1958 have been linked to cancer, disability, and death for the veterans involved. The tests were conducted following a government decision to develop their own independent nuclear weapon arsenal. The court found that more than 20,000 UK personnel were present or involved in the aftermath of the tests in addition to several Fijian and New Zealand personnel. The veterans contend that the MOD was negligent by "failing to take reasonable precautions against such exposure." The MOD denied the negligence allegations, maintaining that those present at the tests were not excessively exposed to the radiation and that the precautions taken by the government were "reasonable and acceptable by the standards of the day." Additionally, the MOD argued that the claims were untimely and that the injury claims would not have been caused by exposure to radiation or that it is impossible to prove that they were. The veterans had claimed that their suit should not be barred by the Limitation Act 1980 [text] since they only recently acquired knowledge that their injuries were "attributable in whole or in part" to the tests. Additionally, the claimants argued that section 33 of the Limitation Act gives the court discretion to permit the claim to proceed despite timeliness. The judge found that the claims were barred by the statute but used his discretion to bypass the time limit. The judge recommended mediation to the parties as a means of achieving a settlement, citing the uncertainties of litigation and the ages of the veterans.

Recently, the Tokyo High Court granted an appeal [JURIST report] to consider 30 people for official recognition as atomic bomb victims resulting from the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. Earlier this year, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] affirmed the dismissal [opinion, PDF] of complaints brought by the people and descendants of the Bikini and Enewetak Atolls seeking further compensation arising out of bomb testing in the 1940s and 1950s. In 2006, a British veteran received £40,000 [BBC report] from the US under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act [materials text] for his involvement in the allied British-US testing. The MOD did not compensate him due to a lack of evidence connecting the tests to the illness.

 

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