Hope for Fulf War claimants

Roger Pearson looks at how £1.9m damages awarded to a Hong Kong musician could help sufferers of Gulf War syndrome.

A damages award of £1.9m paid to a Hong Kong musician looks set to play a major role in the pending litigation by those who claim they are suffering from Gulf War Syndrome as a result of exposure to organo phosphates.

The Hong Kong action, argued by Daniel Brennan QC of 39 Essex Street chambers, centred on Kristan Phillips who was principal timpanist with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. He was eventually rendered unemployable after inhaling vapour from the organo phosphate pesticide, diazinon, when it was sprayed in the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts during orchestra rehearsals. His award included loss of future earnings with the orchestra and loss of other business opportunities.

Defendants in the action included the international chemical company Ciba-Geigy which was held by the Hong Kong court to be negligent and in breach of duty of care for importing diazinon without ensuring proper labelling of the dangers involved in its use.

The major significance of the case as far as the Gulf War Syndrome litigation is concerned is that it is the first time there has been a considered, judge-only decision regarding the adverse effects of organo phosphates. The decision is considered by solicitors involved in both the Hong Kong case and in the pending Gulf War litigation to be damning.

Hilary Meredith of Donn & Co in Manchester is one of the leading solicitors in the Gulf War litigation. Peter Lunning of Hong Kong-based Drivers represented Kristan Phillips in the Hong Kong case.

Lunning says: "This case is one among many involving the effects of organo phosphates but it is the one that came home. It is significant for a number of reasons.

"It is the first time a court has accepted medical evidence that a single exposure to organo phosphates can cause lifetime effects. It is also the first time there has been a finding of this nature against Ciba-Geigy."

Meredith, whose firm has struck a unique financial deal to help Gulf War veterans fund their claims, says the decision will be used in support of the claims by her clients.

She adds that the Gulf veterans' claims could reach the High Court by the end of next year. When they do Brennan will be acting for the claimants.

While the case will be complex, Brennan is unlikely to meet any more complexity than he faced in the Hong Kong action. During the case, which ended in a 200-page judgment, he was confronted with 25 experts in fields including pest control, toxicology, pharmacology, neurology, neurophysiology, psychology and psychiatry. One witness produced 25 pages of his medical notes in English but insisted that Brennan's cross-examination be carried out through an interpreter in Cantonese.

Goran Jamal was one of the experts whose evidence is regarded as having played a major role in the success of the Hong Kong claim. He will be a leading expert when the Gulf War case comes to court and has already gone on record saying that he considers a number of Gulf veterans are suffering peripheral nerve damage as a result of their exposure.