A claims company farming for holiday sickness claims has been rapped by advertising watchdogs over a misleading spoof video. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today ruled Claims Legal Ltd, trading as Holidaysicknessclaims.co.uk, had breached the rules over the video posted on YouTube in February.

The case is believed to be the first time the ASA has intervened into holiday sickness claims advertising, and it followed a complaint from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). 

The ruling comes as the Solicitors Regulation Authority reveals that it is examining information about 31 law firms suspected of improper referral arrangements with claims managers. 

Claims Legal's video was a staged news bulletin in which a newsreader reported Health World Organisation (sic) figures that revealed a ‘staggering’ 351,000 deaths up to 2010 from foodborne illness. Of those, 52,000 people died from contact with salmonella bacteria. The ’report’ outlined symptoms for viewers.

The video urged anyone with sickness after a package holiday to contact Claims Legal, not just to claim compensation but also to be ‘formally recorded for the purpose of statistical analysis’. The company said European regulations now offered greater protection for holidaymakers, and that the burden of proof ‘lies ultimately with the tour operator’.

ABTA complained that the video quoted global fatality figures which were unrelated to holiday sickness.

It challenged whether the advertisement misleadingly suggested consumers contact the company other than to make a claim, and it questioned whether the burden of proof assertion could ultimately be substantiated.

Claims Legal Ltd said it had received no complaints about any of its advertising but agreed the possibility the message ‘might on some occasions have been misconstrued’. The clip has already been removed from its YouTube account and will not be repeated.

It argued the World Health Organisation was a credible source and the video made the point that foodborne illness was a serious issue. It denied any consumer would be misled by appeals for data and pointed to recent court wins for claimants in which the defendants could not prove they had not caused illness.

The ASA said in these cases it was established that claimants must prove contamination to secure damages and the burden of proof assertion could not be substantiated. There was no justification to encourage consumers to contact the company simply for some form of official statistical analysis, and the use of WHO figures was misleading as they were not specific to holiday sickness.

The ASA added: ‘We told Claims Legal Ltd to ensure they held adequate evidence to substantiate objective claims in future. We told them not to mislead about: the number of deaths related to holiday sickness; their role in the analysis of statistics in relation to holiday sickness; and about the level of protection afforded to consumers and the likelihood of their claim succeeding.’

Meanwhile in a statement today the SRA reminded the profession of its obligations in handling holiday sickness claims. A warning notice states that any solicitor handling holiday sickness claims must carry out proper due diligence, including ensuring that the client is seeking legal help of their own accord. The SRA said the Claims Management Regulator has passed on information about 31 firms that had potentially improper referral arrangements with claims management companies.