Posted by Philip Morrs, regional manager of the Birmingham office of Litigation Futures Associate John M Hayes
Amongst the topics of recent news stories in The Le@der, an English newspaper for expatriates in Spain, were Spanish virgins descending on Valencia, complaints from ageing expatriates of ever-increasing waiting times for surgery, and a letter written by the British Ambassador to Spain about fraudulent sickness claims.
Simon Manley had written to key stakeholders in the Spanish tourism industry, informing them of the steps the British government was taking to tackle fraudulent claims, recognising the impact they were having on hoteliers in Spain and on the UK package holiday industry.
Mr Manley referred to the British government as having extended the system of fixed recoverable costs to cover claims arising abroad, limiting the legal costs that are paid out and making the costs of defending a claim predictable to tour operators.
This, seemingly, was a reference to Lord Justice Jackson’s recent report, in which, hoovering up the last few remaining areas that are currently not subject to fixed recoverable costs, he recommends that travel litigation claims be one of those to be included in the scheme.
Lord Justice Jackson’s report and the recommendations contained therein are still to be the subject of parliamentary approval and as yet not on the statute books. Whether there is sufficient appetite for lengthy debate on the proposals is a matter of opinion, particularly as the government has other more pressing topics to be concerned about.
That being said, if you consider an article in The Guardian last month, which plots the meteoric rise of foreign holiday sickness claims during the last three to four years, there appears to be an overwhelming desire from the hoteliers, cruise lines and travel company insurers to contain and reduce the ever-increasing and disproportionate costs of bringing these claims.
Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals may therefore have an untroubled passage through Parliament.
As ever, it is the relative few who spoil it for the many and it has been the continual and now often more discrete farming of claims on behalf of those individuals and families whose bodies are unable to cope with self-inflicted over-indulgencies of the now all-too-familiar all-inclusive package holiday, that has been responsible for such a disproportionate number of false sickness claims.
Statistics from a major tour operator providing revealed that of the some 800,000 German travellers only 114 claims were brought, compared with 750,000 British travellers bringing 4,000 claims.
It seems that holiday sickness is a British disease carried by unscrupulous claims management companies aided and abetted by a minority of unscrupulous firms of solicitors, reminiscent of the recent whiplash epidemic now largely wiped out.
A significant player in the field of international travel litigation when approached for comment admitted that, whilst being concerned at the government’s current appetite for curtailing this kind of activity, group claims are entirely different animals and very much dependent on the attitudes of the travel companies and their insurers, who rarely make early admissions of liability.
For the remaining majority of solicitors who specialise in ensuring that holidaymakers obtain proper access to justice for genuine illness claims, this further proposed mechanisation of the legal process in one of the last bastions of the personal injury industry, serves as a reminder of the power of the insurers in their fight against human greed and of the balance of justice held in the hands of the legal profession.
Holiday sickness claims will be debated at next month’s PI Futures. Click here for all the details.