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Web Alert: Defendants successfully strike out maritime hearing loss personal injury claim

26 November 2018

In Meek v. (1) BP Shipping and (2) Fyffes, the claimant brought a claim for noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). He worked as a ship’s carpenter between 1974 and 1979 for BP Shipping and Fyffes. Proceedings were commenced in the County Court and were served on the defendants.

This was a standard hearing loss claim except for the fact that both defendants were shipowners, and the claimant’s entire alleged exposure to the injurious noise took place on board ships at sea. Therefore, defendants pleaded that the claim should have been started in the Admiralty Court pursuant to s.20(2) of the Senior Courts Act 1981, and that Part 61.2 of the Civil Procedure Rules applied. The claimant refused to discontinue proceedings in the County Court. The defendants then issued a strike out application.

Despite arguments to the contrary made by claimant’s counsel, the judge held in favour of the defendants and agreed that the claim should have been commenced in the Admiralty Court. The judge also refused to transfer the claim to the Admiralty Court because it was not within his power to do so.

This is a potentially important judgment as claimants' solicitors regularly commence proceedings in the County Court notwithstanding the circumstances of the alleged exposure. Despite objections from shipowner defendants in those cases, proceedings in the County Court are often maintained by the court because one or more other defendants to the claim is land-based. This was not the case here.

County Court judgments may not be binding authority but this judgment does provide a good precedent where there is no land-based element, as shipowner defendants now have a reasonable proposect of striking out such claims commenced in the County Court.