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Fieldfisher joins air ambulances charities to recover mission costs

Every year, air ambulances transport doctors and critical care paramedics to people needing urgent assistance and, where necessary, gets them to the appropriate hospital for treatment. This is often the difference between life and death for thousands of victims of car crashes, traumatic accidents, and cardiac arrest, with each helicopter rescue mission costing around £4,000.

Air Ambulances are not funded by the NHS, but by charities reliant on donations from the public.

Law firm Fieldfisher, assisted by barristers instructed from One Crown Office Row Chambers, is launching an initiative to help air ambulance charities across England and Wales recover their costs from defendants in personal injury claims. The firm is also calling on other lawyers representing claimants to get involved so that more money can be raised to assist in trauma cases and help save lives.

Fieldfisher was the first law firm to claim, recover and repay charitable hospices for the end of life care they provide to victims of asbestos disease in 2008. Two years later, the High Court agreed it was a recoverable loss. In Drake v Foster Wheeler Ltd [2010] EWHC 2004 (QB) it was decided that the recovery of damages for gratuitously provided care is not confined to care provided by friends and family members and allowed a claim for care provided by a charitable hospice foundation. Since then such recovery has become commonplace in asbestos disease cases raising millions for hospices in the process.

Lawyers involved in the air ambulance initiative believe the same principles apply to emergency care gratuitously provided by air ambulance charities following a negligently caused accident. Fieldfisher has already successfully recovered air ambulance costs as part of settlement in several cases. The firm have taken this further by working closely with various charities across England and Wales to prepare costings and supporting evidence so that it will become commonplace for claimant lawyers to make similar claims.

Catastrophic injury lawyer Jenny Buchanan and Peter Williams, who was involved in the first initiative for hospices 12 years ago, consider the same principles apply to emergency care provided gratuitously.

Firms representing personal injury claimants who have received emergency care from air ambulance services are asked to contact the air ambulance charity concerned. The charity will then provide the firm with details of carefully constructed mission costs to assist them to claim the cost air ambulance services in the claimant’s Schedule of Loss.  As with any gratuitous care claim, this would be claimed on top of the claimant’s other special damages and would be held on trust by the claimant for the air ambulance charity.

There are 21 UK air ambulance charities, collectively completing more than 25,000 lifesaving missions a year, an average of more than 70 a day.  Unlike NHS-run ambulances, there is no statutory scheme in England and Wales allowing for the recovery of air ambulance costs from defendants where an accident is caused by negligence.

Air ambulance charities are left to fund the mission from charitable donations. As with many charities, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the abilities of the air ambulances to raise funds for their essential services. 
London, Cornwall, Great Western, East Anglia, and Magpas Air Ambulance charities and others are set up with their mission costings and background information where appropriate.

Jennifer Buchanan from Fieldfisher, said:

“Many injured claimants, family members and solicitors already provide vital charitable donations to the air ambulance services from their own savings. Fieldfisher has taken this one step further by successfully seeking to routinely recover these donations as part of claims for personal injury. We now hope to encourage other firms acting for claimants to make similar claims, so that air ambulance costs can become an established and recognised head of loss."

Cornwall Air Ambulance: “We know from experience that our patients and their families are incredibly grateful for the critical care they received from our charity and they are often desperate to give something back, but are not able to do so. Many are unaware that the service provided is a charity. We hope this initiative will allow us to recover much needed donations from those injured through no fault of their own."

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