Cosmic rays' legal consequences

Your article on aircrew illness caused by cosmic radiation (Flight International, 25-31 January, P60) was well constructed and timely, but the legal comments may lull insurers and carriers into a false sense of security.

The epidemiological evidence suggests that there is a correlation between certain types of cancer and flying long hours at high altitude. There must be a serious risk that there is a casual link between long hours at high altitude, cosmic radiation and certain types of cancer.

The English legal system generally favours defendants, by forcing claimants to show that the defendant caused the injury. However, if the general causal link between radiation and disease is established, it will be a very short step for aircrew claimants to prove claims for what amount to industrial injuries. English law demands proof "on the balance of probabilities". You win if the probability that you are correct is 51%.

Passengers are another matter unless they are particularly loyal to one airline. But there is no room to be complacent here either. Courts and legislatures in Europe and the USA have developed "market share" theories to share out liability between possible defendants. They have reversed the burden of proof so that a defendant is liable unless he can prove he could not have caused the injury. Cosmic rays may be invisible, but their consequences could cost a great deal of money - and some extra weight on new jet aircraft.

Anthony Fitzsimmons

Ince & Co (Solicitors)

London, UK

Source: Flight International