Armed forces personnel well understand that their jobs can be dangerous. However, as a High Court case showed, their submission to discipline does not make them any less entitled to compensation if they fall victim to others' negligence.
The case concerned a 20-year-old army chef who was killed during a kayak training exercise off the coast of Cyprus, where he was serving as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force. About 40 minutes into the trip, a storm suddenly blew in and giant waves slammed into the kayaks, pushing them towards cliffs.
He fell behind his colleagues and, after they made it to shore, they could see him desperately trying to communicate with them using hand signals. He was still alive, but exhausted, by the time Cypriot police arrived by boat and threw him a life ring. At that point, he was knocked unconscious by a huge wave. He had no pulse when pulled from the water and was later declared dead in hospital.
After his mother launched proceedings, the Ministry of Defence admitted liability for the accident and agreed to settle her claim for £535,000. About £5,000 of that sum was paid to his estate to cover his funeral expenses and in recognition of the extreme fear he would have suffered as the tragedy unfolded.
His mother received £35,762 of the total to reflect her loss of dependency upon him, but the vast majority of the damages – £493,927 – was paid to his learning-disabled younger brother, to whom he provided devoted care whilst on leave from his army service. The Court approved the settlement.