Ex-soldier sues over DVT in first ever short-flight claim

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The Independent Online

A former British peacekeeper has lodged the first compensation claim for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) arising from a short-haul flight after he was taken seriously ill following a holiday in Tenerife.

Michael Hainsworth, 24, a former soldier who served in Cyprus, fell ill after a two-week holiday to the Canary Islands in 2000.

His case is expected to join the legal action brought by 24 families who are suing airlines for alleged DVT-linked deaths and injuries following long-haul flights.

Shortly after landing at Humberside airport, Mr Hainsworth became very ill and was admitted to a Leeds hospital where he was diagnosed with life-threatening DVT.

But he says he first noticed blood clot symptoms during the four-and-a-half-hour flight to Tenerife.

"Apart from flying to Cyprus with the Army I had never been on a passenger plane before. I spent two weeks in Tenerife being ill most of the time with pain in my hip and groin," he said.

Mr Hainsworth says that although both flights with Air Europa were crowded, passengers were instructed to remain in their seats with their seat belts tightly fastened.

"I felt ill on arrival [at Humberside] and spent the next few hours feeling worse and worse. The next night my mother took me to hospital." Mr Hainsworth left the Army because of a long-standing illness, Behcet's Disease, which doctors believe may have made him vulnerable to DVT.

Recent studies have shown short flights can cause the condition. Research by Professor Gianni Belcaro, of G d'Annunzio University in Italy, showed most blood clots develop in the first two to three hours of a journey. His team found four per cent of high-risk travellers flying between the UK and Italy developed DVT - two cases required hospital treatment.

But Mr Hainsworth's action has been disrupted by a Legal Services Commission decision not to grant him legal aid, a decision his lawyers are appealing. Des Collins, his solicitor, said despite an initial report by the commission indicating Mr Hainsworth would be granted legal aid, the agency changed its mind. In a letter seen by The Independent on Sunday, the commission's head of funding wrote to his lawyers last year, saying the proceedings could produce "real benefits" and the case involved complex arguments requiring their client to have representation. But last week the commission ruled it now thought the case had a less than borderline chance of success and funding would not be in the public interest.

Mr Hainsworth, who now has a job with Brittany Ferries and lives in Cornwall, said: "The DVT almost cost me my life, has left me disabled and would have been preventable. There is no social life for me and very many restrictions on what I can do, but at least I survived." A spokesman for Air Europa's solicitors declined to comment on Mr Hainsworth's claim.

The House of Lords is poised to grant permission for the long-haul DVT cases to proceed after a recent US Supreme Court ruling lent support to the claimants' case.

The families feared their battle for compensation was finished last July, when the Court of Appeal threw out their claim.Three senior judges decided DVT did not constitute an accident under the Warsaw Convention, so airlines could not be held liable.However, in its landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court criticised this ruling and extended the meaning of what could constitute an accident. Mr Collins explained: "The Supreme Court went as far as to say the Court of Appeal was wrong. As a result, we are confident the House of Lords will allow us to go forward."