European edition, Sunday, May 20, 2007

RAF MILDENHALL, England — The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence last year more than doubled the amount of money it paid British citizens for claims against visiting forces in the country, according to a ministry report.

In fiscal 2005-2006, the MOD paid a total of 463,763 pounds (about $930,000) for 59 claims against visiting forces in the U.K. — the majority of which are U.S. Air Force — according to the MOD’s annual claims report.

That figure was up sharply from the 210,000 pounds it paid for 48 claims in fiscal 2004-2005, and its highest level since at least 2002, the report shows.

Much of the increase was due to a pair of payouts given to the widows of two U.S. pilots from RAF Lakenheath killed in a training accident in Scotland in 2001. In an “interim payment,” on their ongoing claim against the Air Force, the two women received a total of 150,000 pounds, according to the report.

The claims for the widows of Lt. Col. Kenneth Hyvonen and Capt. Kirk Jones fell under the “low flying,” category which, even without their disbursement, rose from the previous year, from 22,000 pounds to more than 31,000 pounds.

The amount paid out for “personal injury” claims against visiting forces also increased — to 230,247 pounds for nine settlements in 2005-2006, up from 92,424 pounds the previous year.

Settlements for property damage and maritime claims rose nominally from 2004-2005, while payouts for road traffic accidents went down by one-third, the report reads.

The MOD report reveals settlements paid to citizens who filed for compensation from mainly U.S. forces in England for everything from car accidents to shipping mishaps. Claims against U.S. forces are filed with the 3rd Air Force legal office, which makes recommendations to the MOD on whether and how much to settle the claims for, according to a 3rd Air Force spokesman.

The MOD then makes an independent decision on how much to award the claimant, and bills the visiting force for 75 percent of the money. For 2005-2006, that left visiting forces paying 357,249 pounds (about $714,498) out of the 463,763 pounds total.

The exact U.S. portion of the payouts is difficult to determine because the MOD would not release how many of the 59 claims from 2005-2006 were against U.S. forces.

The 3rd Air Force, which pays claims for all military branches in the U.K., doled out $202,836 for 48 claims in the time period covered by the MOD report (April 1, 2005, to March 31, 2006), according to numbers provided by Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Davina Petermann.

Those payments might only partially correspond to the 59 covered in the MOD report, however, due to lags in the administration of the payment program, she said.

Payments on both the MOD and U.S. forces lists might be tied to claims filed several years ago.

The U.S. list of payouts to British citizens includes several big-ticket items, including a $50,590 payout for medical malpractice and $31,235 payment on a low-flying claim. Many of the 48 paid out last year were for damage to privately owned vehicles, ranging in amounts from several hundred to more than $8,000. Details on the specifics of claims, however, were not available by press time.

The MOD press office did not respond to requests for further information on settlements recorded in the 2005-2006 claims report.

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