The widow of a peace-keeping soldier, who was killed in a landmine explosion more than twenty years ago, has had a compensation settlement of 300,000 Euros approved in the High Court. Private Maddix Armstrong (26) was killed, along with two other Irish U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers, when a landmine exploded alongside their truck on March 21 1989 near the town of Brashit in South Lebanon.
Maddix´s widow, Grainne, sued the State and Minister for Defence, alleging that the State had failed in its responsibility to take all reasonable precautions for the safety of Private Armstrong and his colleagues while they were engaged in their duties.
It was claimed in the action that the peace-keepers had been required to drive the truck in an area where there was an ever-present danger of landmines without remote-sensing equipment and with no search conducted for landmines ahead of the truck.
In April of this year, Defence Minister Alan Shatter announced that a review of the three soldiers´ deaths was to be conducted by senior counsel, Frank Callanan. The results of that review are not due until August 19, but Ms Justice Mary Irvine at the High Court heard that the State was prepared to make an offer of 300,000 Euros now to avoid a full hearing during which there would be evidential difficulties. Approving the award, Ms Justice Mary Irvine stated that these were “hard, sad cases” and with such a difficult claim to determine, Grainne Armstrong was right to accept the offer that had been made to her.
Soldiers, who suffered from the side effects of the anti-malaria drug Lariam, are seeking compensation from the State for neuropsychiatric side-effects, brain damage and motor-neurone disorders. The drug was given to Irish soldiers who were deployed in Chad and Liberia while serving with the UN, despite it being known to have serious side effects such as depression, anxiety and forgetfulness. It is also alleged in the claims filed against the State, that the soldiers were prescribed the drug even though their army medical files indicated that it was unsuitable for them.
Lariam is a trade name for mefloquine – a drug which is used to prevent and combat malaria in areas where mosquitoes have developed a resistance to the more commonly used chloroquine – and, as it needs to be administered only once a week, is preferred to alternative mefloquine anti malaria alternatives. However, the potential side effects are well chronicled.
In the United States, Lariam was banned for distribution amongst the Armed Forces in 2009 after it was linked with a series of suicides by Special Forces soldiers in 2002 and following a series of complaints from veterans who have suffered both psychological and physical side effects – which in numerous cases did not surface until many years later.
The Defence Forces have confirmed that ten serving soldiers are undergoing treatment for possible side effects of Lariam, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg, as several thousand Irish soldiers have served in the area in the past few years. Indeed, only last month, it was revealed that the Department of Defence had increased their compensation budget by almost 50% (to 6 million Euros) to allow for an anticipated increase in the number of claims from soldiers who had been administered Lariam.
Internal documents from the Department of Defence have revealed that almost 6 million Euros is being set aside to compensate members of the defence forces in personal injury claims.
The substantial increase, from the 4.1 million Euros which was paid out last year, is due to an anticipated increase in the number of claims from soldiers who were exposed to the controversial anti-malaria drug, Larium.
The department is already aware of at least 10 cases where members of the defence forces have claimed they developed serious side effects as a consequence of taking the drug, and the extra provision in their budget is to account for any new personal injury compensation claims deriving from soldiers who recently served in Chad or the Central African Republic.
The Department of Defence has also factored into their compensation budget an allocation for post traumatic stress disorder as well as an increase for the most common types of compensation claim – personal injuries arising from traffic accidents, occupational personal injuries, and administrative law cases in areas such as promotion and disciplinary action.
The Statute of Limitations applies to member of the defence forces in the same way as the general public, and soldiers have two years from the date of knowledge of an injury in which to make a claim for personal injury compensation.