A senior defendant lawyer has hit out at solicitors who claimed £730,000 in costs for a “straightforward” holiday sickness claim in a case with damages of only £13,000.
Paul Edwards, a director at Keoghs and head of its costs team in Liverpool, said the behaviour of claimant lawyers was “incredible”, but the case was “not a one-off” and the industry had to “look at itself and say this is not just about nasty insurers.”
Speaking at last week’s PI Futures conference, Mr Edwards said: “Two families went on holiday. There was sickness and diarrhoea – none of it was particularly serious – for two or three days. Across the two families they recovered £13,000 in damages.
“A total of 18 hours recorded on one day by one fee-earner. When challenged on it, the response was: ‘I was busy, so I worked hard’.
“Costs budgets were manipulated, with 102 hours spent on statements. Five or six of the claimants were toddlers. There’s a limit to how much time you can spend on this kind of work.
“There were 324 internal meetings. There was even a claim for the mother who was not sick, and the time taken reviewing her medical report. We filed an application effectively for misconduct and the bill settled at £150,000.”
Mr Edwards said at certain hotels it was “only the UK holidaymakers who were getting sick”, which said something.
“Our clients want to settle the genuine claims as quickly as possible. If they don’t settle a genuine claim, what happens? They lose a customer. If someone goes on holiday and they’re sick and it’s dealt with nicely and sensibly, the chances are they will book the same holiday.
“Following the influx of claims, the holiday industry deserves credit for putting its house in order. We’ve seen tremendous improvements in accident recording and cleanliness. A lot of work has been put in to try and limit the scope of these claims.”
Mr Edwards also praised claimant firms which had “got their house in order” and become more vigilant.
“If you get a claim in, claimant lawyers should do the same due diligence as defendants. Checks on Facebook and things like that.
“The evidence we’re seeing is that claims are falling off a cliff. There’s been a dramatic reduction. One of our clients said there had been a 90% reduction in claims.”
Mr Edwards said there were still gaps in regulation, with cruise ships and UK holidays currently not covered by the stricter regime.
He added that Keoghs had received reports of the first sexual abuse claims in the holiday arena, encouraged by the way vicarious liability had “exploded” in the last few years.
“I’ve no practical experience of such claims but they must relate to bar staff and waiters and so on in the restaurants and clubs.”
Earlier Monica Savic-Jabrow, a director of Barrister Direct, said holiday claims “had not died” and were “still viable to run”, despite fixed costs limiting the “wiggle room”.
She went on: “Gastric claims can be very complex and CPR heavy. Claimant solicitors have become more vigilant to make claims viable.
“Some people come back from their holidays with very serious illnesses. It attracts negative comment in the press, but they may have spent their whole year’s salary on a holiday that is ruined.
“Fixed costs have affected the way these claims are run but they have not reduced their viability or the general problem that exists in the holiday industry of occasionally substandard hygiene.
“The firms that bring these claims will be OK if they use the correct systems. There is no reason why they cannot be successful.”