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BA deep vein action opens

LONDON, England -- A landmark court action has begun in London with 230 air travellers who say they or their relatives suffered deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after long-haul flights seeking compensation against British Airways.

Lawyers representing both parties effectively agreed on a draft order to open the class action on Thursday at England's High Court in London.

"We are delighted that the court has put in place the machinery to resolve this issue efficiently and effectively," Des Collins, senior partner at Watford-based Collins Solicitors representing the claimants, told Reuters.

The claimants argue that the combination of cramped flying conditions and long hours in the air gave them or their relatives so-called economy class syndrome.

Lawyer Stuart Cakebread QC told the court that, at present, 286 potential claimants from a number of countries had come forward and contacted solicitors.

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One of them is Lyn Walcott, from Essex, whose husband Nigel died after getting off a British Airways flight from Barbados in October 2000.

Robert Lawson, who is representing a number of potential defendants, told senior High Court official Master Turner that it was agreed that a group litigation order should be issued.

He said that there was an important preliminary issue to be tried first over whether DVT could be an accident under the terms of the Warsaw Convention, which applies to all international carriage of persons by aircraft for reward.

The Convention only allowed for recovery of compensation in respect of personal injury or death caused by an accident.

"In our submission, the only true group issue that we can ascertain at the moment is as to whether, as a matter of principle, the onset of DVT in the course of, or arising out of, carriage by air, can amount to an accident."

Later, Master Turner gave the go-ahead for a group action -- subject to Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf's approval.

He said: "The sooner we get this action properly constituted within the framework of a group litigation order the better because time is passing."

The group plans to sue other airlines, too, with between 20 and 30 potential defendants to the claims.

A spokesman for British Airways welcomed the group litigation order.

He said the company would resist claims against it in the context of advice given by the Government and the World Health Organization that no specific link between flying and DVT had been established.

DVT involves potentially deadly blood clots that can develop during long-distance travel.

The chances of developing DVT are low. Passengers who are overweight or heavy drinkers or smokers have an increased risk.

Airlines and doctors advise travellers on long-haul flights to exercise their legs, drink plenty of water and not drink too much alcohol.


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