Military Non-freezing Cold Injury Compensation Claims

Non-freezing cold injuries (NCFIs), such as trench foot, occur when the body’s core temperature falls below its natural level for a prolonged period. This reduces blood flow to the extremities, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients.

NCFIs can have long-term effects and damage military careers. We have extensive experience helping service personnel win non-freezing cold injury compensation claims for incidents occurring at home and abroad.

Military regulations are clear that non-freezing cold injuries are largely preventable and that it is a management issue to ensure service men and women are protected. If unnecessary cold injuries have occurred then a claim for compensation is possible.

If you have suffered a non-freezing cold injury in the military then contact us today. We usually work on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Non-freezing cold injury compensation claims

Military regulations make it clear that cold injuries are largely preventable. If unnecessary cold injuries occur, the military has failed in its duty of care.

If you think you have suffered from a cold injury you should make a claim as soon as possible, as strict time limits apply – even for claims through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

If you think you have suffered a cold injury that could have been avoided, contact one of our solicitors, without charge or obligation, to discuss making a claim.

Read the short summary below to get an idea of the types of claims we’ve settled for our military clients. Keep in mind that your circumstances may differ from the story we’ve shared below, and thus your compensation levels may differ too.

Over £700,000 for former Corporal after exposure to severe cold

While on military training exercises, our client was exposed to severe cold. His cold weather clothing had been shipped abroad for an exercise which was cancelled, and so he was deployed in cold weather in the UK for training without his kit and exposed to severe temperatures. He suffered a severe non-freezing cold injury to his hands and feet. He was medically discharged from the Army as a result. The case was challenging for a number of reasons – our client’s injuries were subtle yet debilitating; liability was denied by the Ministry of Defence throughout the claim; our client’s losses were complex and we obtained expert evidence from a vascular surgeon, a pain expert and an employment expert with specialty in military careers to properly assess the claim. Despite the challenges, we were able to negotiate settlement of the claim for over £700,000.

Duty of care and NFCI

The military has a duty to protect service personnel from unnecessary cold injuries. This includes ensuring that training and other exercises are carried out safely, and that men and woman are:

  • Given the tools to enable them to avoid injury even in tough conditions
  • Provided with the right clothing, shelter and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Fully trained in how to recognise and prevent NFCI
  • Encouraged to report signs of NFCI
  • Regularly monitored for signs of cold injury, e.g. foot inspections
  • Evacuated when they report symptoms of NFCI
  • Able to carry out duties in appropriate temperatures
  • Given warm drinks, food and sufficient breaks to dry and change clothing
  • Not required to undertake excessive physical tasks in inappropriately cold and wet conditions

Causes of non-freezing cold injury

A non-freezing cold injury occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below its natural level for a significant length of time. For this reason, exercises or service conducted for long periods outdoors present an obvious danger.

image of navy cadets

When a person’s core temperature falls too low the blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow to the extremities and starving the areas of oxygen and nutrients. This is harmful even though body tissues do not freeze. If there is no immediate treatment nerve and blood vessel damage can occur, sometimes causing permanent injury.

It is important to remember that these injuries can happen in temperatures as “high” as four degrees above freezing.

Individual service personnel and cold injuries

Service personnel of African and Afro-Caribbean descent, including those of mixed race, are particularly vulnerable in low temperatures. The MoD has acknowledged research indicating that these groups are 30 times more likely to contract an NFCI than Caucasian service personnel.

This variance in the degrees of exposure required from one person to another makes educating service personnel, the chain of command and MOs essential. From early Phase One training all men and women in the armed forces should be made thoroughly familiar with the signs of cold injury, and there should be frequent reminders throughout service.

Preventing cold injuries

Cold injuries can become serious, and irreversible, very rapidly. They need to be identified and treated quickly to avoid long-lasting damage to the body’s nervous and vascular systems.

Bolt Burdon Kemp’s experience tells us that the best way to prevent cold injuries is education up and down the chain of command. Unfortunately, many of our clients tell us that neither they nor their chain of command were provided with adequate training. Cold injuries can be prevented by:

  • Limiting exposure
  • Keeping feet and hands as dry as possible
  • Regular hot food and drink
  • Early recognition of symptoms, evacuation and treatment
  • Reporting incidents properly to help identify clusters of cases
  • Most importantly, being aware of the early signs of cold injury

Military regulations say that instructors and senior staff should evacuate service personnel who may be suffering with cold injuries at an early stage, but these are not always followed.

Too often, the NCO or SNCO will tell the injured person to “man up”, or persuade them to continue with the exercise. This is often because they themselves have not been adequately trained in the signs and prevention of cold injury, or because their training has not been updated.

Symptoms of cold injuries

NFCIs usually affect the body’s extremities, such as hands and feet. Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • ‘Cotton wool feet’ ‘Wearing someone else’s feet’
  • Swelling
  • Discolouration
  • Excessive sweating

It must also be remembered that when temperatures are very low frostbite can occur and may lead to amputation, coma or even death. This situation is called a ‘freezing’ injury because the water in the body’s tissues freezes, with devastating consequences.

Long-term outlook

The effects of NFCI can vary from being mild to severe. Even mild injuries can leave long-term effects such as problems regulating body temperature. The damage to a military career and the prolonged pain can even result in depression.

Many of our clients have problems with day-to-day living because their hands have been affected so that their manual dexterity is reduced.

Service personnel who are discharged with a cold injury are often at a significant disadvantage in civilian life. Sufferers are often unable to work outside in cold weather, severely limiting their career options.

Personnel from the Commonwealth will often find that, following a cold injury, they are restricted to working in warm climates. This means they can no longer follow any plans they may have made to make a life in the UK, Europe or North America.

Making a claim for a cold injury

Military regulations make it clear that cold injuries are largely preventable. If unnecessary cold injuries occur, the military has failed in its duty of care.

If you think you have suffered from a cold injury you should make a claim as soon as possible, as strict time limits apply – even for claims through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

If you think you have suffered a cold injury that could have been avoided, contact one of our solicitors, without charge or obligation, to discuss making a claim.

How we have helped our clients

Private of Ghanaian origin settles NFCI claim for over £500,000

Our client suffered a life changing Non Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI) during a training exercise at Otterburn training camp in 2015.  Originally from Ghana, he was a Private in an Infantry regiment of the British Army at the time. The injury caused nerve damage to both hands and feet, with cold environments triggering painful symptoms. It also meant that he was medically discharged after just three years of service. He has now received £510,000 in compensation from the Ministry of Defence which reflects the lifelong impact the NFCI will have on his earnings and pension, his need for additional care and assistance, as well as the cost of medication and additional heating to help him manage his symptoms.

Lance Corporal wins claim after being ‘beasted’ and suffering an NFCI

Our client was a Lance Corporal in the Army. He and a number of his fellow soldiers were taking part in a poorly run promotional course in freezing conditions. Contrary to Army regulations, they were physically punished (‘beasted’), including being asked to do press ups in the snow. To make matters worse, there was no provision for him to dry his kit, which all became soaked over a number of days. He spent too long exposed to wet and freezing conditions and suffered a non-freezing cold injury (NFCI) to his hands and feet, which resulted in him being medically discharged.

We instructed a number of experts to assess our client’s condition and losses. They provided evidence that he had suffered a long-term and disabling injury, and had lost a significant Army career, including income, benefits and pension. Despite their denials of the claim, we were able to arrange a meeting with the Ministry of Defence and successfully negotiated a settlement of £575,000 for our client. This will now enable him and his family to move on with their lives.

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