A guide to package holiday claims
An injury on holiday abroad can really ruin your well-deserved break and be horribly expensive in the short-term, even if you have good travel insurance. Being abroad just adds another worry to an already-fraught situation, but provided you keep your head, many claims for accidents abroad can be dealt with swiftly and effectively when you are back in the UK.
Before 1992, things were very different. Bringing an accident claim in a foreign country, using foreign lawyers, was a daunting prospect. However, the Package Tour Regulations of 1992 has made it much easier in most cases to bring a compensation claim.
The Regulations allow you to claim damages against your tour operator for the proper performance of the tour contract- you do not have to pursue the actual person who is at fault for your injury. As this will usually be a foreign national or company it makes the legal process much more straightforward.
How does it work?
Joe and Martha buy an all-inclusive package holiday to Spain from Second Choice in Manchester. On the first night of the holiday, whilst walking down the staircase to dinner, Joe trips on a missing marble tile on the stairs and breaks his arm. The wall light at the top of the stairs was broken, so he did not spot the damaged flooring. Their holiday is ruined, he has to pay out over £600 on his credit card for medical treatment and is in hospital for 3 nights. They bring a claim against Second Choice on the basis that the Spanish hotel failed to keep the staircase reasonably safe. Their solicitors win compensation for the injury, the ruination of the holiday, and for repayment of expenses not covered by Joe’s travel insurance.
Sandy is a single mum with a toddler aged 2. She books a package holiday to Cyprus, choosing a particular hotel because the brochure states that there is lift access to all main areas and this will be vital for her with her toddler and buggy. It turns out that although there is a lift, it does not connect with the lower ground floor, which is where the only restaurant in the hotel is sited. She has no choice but to carry her daughter and buggy down the stairs to dinner each evening. On the third night of her holiday, she slips and is injured. Even though there is nothing at all wrong with the stairs, she still succeeds in her compensation claim, because the need for a lift was fundamental- Sandy would not have picked that hotel or package if she had known the lift did not in fact go to all floors. Therefore, the tour operator was in breach of the term of the contract which said that it did, and her injury was caused as a direct result of that breach.
What holidays are covered?
The Regulations apply to package holidays only- this means the holiday must:-
- be pre-arranged;
- include at least 2 of these 3 things- transport, accommodation, “other tourist services which account for a significant proportion of the package”
The holiday does not have to take place abroad. If you buy a package which includes a berth on a narrow boat and all meals, cruising a canal in Wiltshire for example, that will be covered by the Regulations. Most of such claims, though, tend to relate to holidays abroad.
So, can I claim for anything that goes wrong?
No. The Regulations do not mean that the tour operator is liable for any and all problems which arise. To succeed in a compensation claim, you still have to show that someone who provided services under the holiday contract failed to do so with reasonable care and skill, and that loss or injury arose as a direct result. So, if Joe had injured his arm simply because he slipped in torrential rain on the pavement outside the hotel, the tour operator would not be liable for his injuries. The basis of the law is that where a foreign supplier of services under the tour contract has failed to perform its side of that contract, the tour operator will be liable for that failure. The services under the contract have to be provided with “reasonable care and skill”- what is reasonable may vary depending on the situation. A supplier of services will not be liable if what went wrong was beyond his control, or was a pure accident which could not have been prevented even with reasonable care (ie. act of God).
It is worth mentioning that whilst many claims will be for injury, that does not have to be the case. The essence of the Regulations is that they involve a breach of contract, so a claim could be made for pure financial loss where no personal injury has been sustained. For example, if part of the package deal involved extensive touring in a luxury, air-conditioned coach with a knowledgeable guide, and in fact no transport is provided, so you end up having to pay locally for a rental vehicle- that cost would be claimable. In those circumstances, a claim could also be made for compensation for the spoiling of the holiday.
This can be a tricky one. Just because a hotel or resort does not come up to the safety standards which might be expected in the UK, this does not necessarily mean that a claim automatically follows. The law recognises that standards in other countries, even within the EU, can vary. For example, 2-pin electrical sockets inside bathrooms are common in many Mediterranean countries- something which would be viewed with horror by a UK electrician. Marble flooring is used throughout the Mediterranean and whilst it is cool and pretty, it is also lethally slippery when wet.
Neither might be acceptable in a hotel in the UK, but are perfectly acceptable practice abroad.
There are conflicting cases, but the law seems to be that for a claim to succeed, you have to show that the accepted standards of the local area or region have been breached, not just show that something would be unacceptable in the UK.
What should I do if I am injured on a package holiday?
If you are injured the most important thing to do is to get hold of and keep any evidence about what happened. Photographs, names and addresses of other holidaymakers who saw what happened, names of holiday reps or other staff involved, receipts and other documents for expenses- all of these are vital and should be obtained wherever possible. It is difficult to think of such things if your partner, child, or close friend is languishing in a foreign hospital somewhere, but the more information you can get hold of, the better. Your original booking receipt, terms and conditions, and even the holiday brochure from which you picked your holiday will all be important, because they are the basis of the contract that you have with the tour operator and will define the terms of that contract. You will be seeking to show that those terms were broken in some way.
It’s amazing how often people do not follow matters up when they get back home. You may tell your friends about your terrible holiday; you may well complain to the tour operator (who will almost certainly try to fob you off with a voucher or mere apology); but if you do not get proper advice from solicitors who know the law and know what they are talking about, you will be at a disadvantage. You may have had a good claim, but run out of time to pursue it, or you may unintentionally settle it, for example, by accepting the voucher from the tour operator for a bunch of flowers from M&S.
But won’t it cost me a lot of money to use a solicitor?
No, it won’t. Slee Blackwell have a highly experienced team dealing with this type of claim. Provided your claim looks like it has a fair chance of succeeding, we shall offer to deal with it under a “no win, no fee” agreement.
Our specialist package holiday claims solicitors are always happy to have a chat completely free of charge and will soon tell you whether your case is one that’s worth pursuing.