A recent article by District Judge Stephen Gerlis published on Lawtel referred to the ﬁxed costs recovery scheme being introduced for ‘those notorious holiday gastric illness claims’. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘notorious’ is ‘famous for some bad quality or deed’. It is therefore of concern to me when such a senior district judge, appointed full time in 1988, describes a class of claims in this way.
There had undoubtedly been a very significant increase in the number of reported claims (although recently one of the holiday companies had admitted a considerable reduction). There are at least two possible explanations for this.
The first is that there is a tidal wave of dishonesty sweeping across the country, exploited by claims management companies desperate to bolster their income at a time of falling revenues.
The second is that there is much greater public awareness, and that whereas in the past people may have shrugged their shoulders, they now decide to pursue their legal rights.
My firm handles many such claims. We have rigorous policies to root out fraud and would agree wholeheartedly that such claimants need to be treated severely. In our experience, however, they are very much in the minority.
Of course the travel industry’s response would be ‘you would say that’, but I make two further observations.
First, a very well-known barrister who is frequently instructed by defendants, David Boyle, recently published a post on his LinkedIn page referring to the fact that he has had to date 20 or so trials. He goes on to say ‘to be clear, I have not had a single finding of fundamental dishonesty. Not one, even though some sections of the media would have you believe that these cases are all bent. They are not.’
Second, many major holiday companies maintain that they are perfectly prepared to settle legitimate claims. However, of the last 100 claims we presented against each of two such major companies, liability has been admitted in precisely 0% of them. A similar experience is reported by other claimant firms. They are in effect accusing their customer base of widespread fraud.
In the scheme of things, these claims may seem very minor. To the ordinary man on the Torremolinos flight, however, who has saved for 12 months for an all-inclusive holiday, being ill for five or six days is not something to be brushed off lightly. If they can prove that on the balance of probabilities they were ill and that the hotel is unable to demonstrate adequate health and hygiene systems, it is only right that they should be fairly compensated. All they are asking for is a fair hearing and, if appropriate, fair compensation.
Paul Smith, head of travel law, Smith Jones, Burnley