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Holiday sickness claims – an unwanted epidemic or a genuine problem?

Young woman with heatstroke

Like me, you have probably noticed a lot in the news recently about the rise in holiday sickness claims and the government’s proposals to crack down on these.  It is no surprise that if there has been a rise in such claims, the holiday companies are anxious to stop that – after all in most cases they are the ones liable to pay compensation to successful claimants.

It is abundantly clear that there have been false claims made in this regard and there have been a fair few high profile cases where fraudulent claims have been taken to court and the claimants have been given large fines or ordered to pay substantial costs.  It might not sound like it – but that is actually good news.  If holiday companies continue to pursue anyone who fraudulently makes a claim, then that should deter anyone who tries to abuse the legal system in that way, and should mean that genuine claims are given the proper consideration they deserve.

The government has also announced they intend to take action to reduce the number of claims, and the proposal is to create a fixed costs regime.  I await with interest the further proposals on this issue.  It does seem that in the same way as they are attempting to deal with Whiplash claims, the government is trying to solve a problem caused by a fraudulent few, by limiting the rights of everyone else who might have a genuine claim.  Far better to encourage the holiday companies, and the insurers, to continue robustly defending any claims they believe to be fraudulent, than just to pay out on smaller claims for “commercial reasons”.

There are also differing views on the reasons why there appears to have been a rise in such claims.  It is true that some claims management companies (the people who are not solicitors but make phone calls to you and send you text messages), seem to have strongly diversified into this area.  However there is also a school of thought (and supportive data) that actually the amount of foreign holidays people are taking has increased, there is an increase in the amount of people taking cruises or all-inclusive holidays, and also a tendency to go further afield to environments when things can quickly go wrong and hygiene standards can deteriorate.  Of course often when they go aboard, people drink more than they are used to, or eat things they are not accustomed to, which might upset their digestive systems, for reasons that is nobody’s fault at all.It leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth (sorry) to think of people going out to holiday resorts and advertising, or even approaching holiday makers, to encourage them to make claims.  Apart from the ethical concerns, I am not sure I would personally be keen to stay anywhere where there were vans advertising the fact that I might get gastroenteritis.  It might well put me off eating whilst I was there and that would definitely spoil the holiday!

I do not know to what extent these tales of people encouraging people to make claims are actually happening or whether they have been fabricated or exaggerated.  However the fact is that if you are ill on holiday, and it is the fault of the hotel or other accommodation, then you can still make a claim, just like you have always been able to.  After all, you have suffered an injury, through the fault of someone else, and you are entitled to seek compensation for that, and any associated financial losses.  It isn’t just a case of “I ate your food and got ill so it’s your fault” though.  You have to be able to prove that you were ill, prove that the illness resulted from some contamination of the food, and also that other causes can be reasonably excluded.

What you need to do – some tips:

  1. If you fall ill on holiday, seek medical advice as soon as possible.  This of course is in your best interest in looking after your health, and that is the most important thing!  Apart from that though, and making sure you are going to be Ok and make a good recovery, if you might wish to pursue a claim later, it is important that you prove later that you sought medical help.  So attend a local doctor or hospital, and get some form of letter or report to confirm the diagnosis.
  2. Make a complaint to the manager or staff at the hotel and also to the holiday rep, or to the tour operator if there is no rep in the resort.  Ask then to ensure they keep a record of your complaint, make sure you take their names,  and if possible get a copy of their report.
  3. Take photographs of anything that is obviously visible and shows poor cleanliness, hygiene, or anything else which could have caused your illness – such as dirty plates or utensils, poorly maintained food preparation areas, etc.
  4. Make a written record of what you ate or drank before you became ill, before you forget.
  5. Ask other holiday makers if they have been ill or know other people who have been ill, and get their contact details so that you can get back in touch later.

When you get home:

  1. Go and see your doctor as soon as possible – even if you are feeling completely better
  2. Make a written complaint to the holiday company (if it was booked as a package)
  3. Seek legal advice from a reputable Solicitor.  Don’t respond to an advert or call from a claims management company.  Speak to people you know and ask them to recommend a solicitor to help, or contact an organisation like the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) for a recommendation.
  4. When you go to see the solicitor, take all the information with you, and make sure you tell the solicitor everything you can remember and that you are completely honest.  It is important to know at an early stage whether you have a claim that is likely to succeed, and there is no point wasting your time and putting you at risk of having to pay costs, or even a conviction for fraud, if your claim is found to be untrue.  One of the main reasons for recent findings like this is where claimants have said that they only ate the food at the hotel, but it has later come to light that they went out and ate elsewhere.  If that happened with you, you must let the solicitor know, as otherwise it can be used against you.

I very much hope that no-one falls ill on holiday, but if you do, think carefully about whether you are likely to have a claim and take the right kind of advice.  Most Solicitors will have an initial chat with you to see if you are likely to have a valid claim, for no charge.

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