Spanish hoteliers complain of being ‘held hostage’ over illness claims

An explosion in gastric illness claims by British holidaymakers made national news in Spain last week as Spanish hoteliers complained of being “held hostage” by the UK industry.

Spain’s national TV network Channel 6 reported “false food-poisoning claims: the trick Brits use to have free holidays in Spain”.

Hoteliers and insurers are furious that UK travel firms opt to pay claims and pass the costs to hotels rather than go to court and risk paying claimants’ lawyers’ five-figure costs.

Channel 6 reported: “British law protects the consumer. A pharmacy [receipt] serves for the tour operator to accept the claim.

In the Balearic Islands complaints have increased 700% in the last year.” It quoted Antonio Aranda of the Costa del Sol hotel association who complained: “The only ones who get sick are the British.”

Marie Rogers of Madrid‑based law firm Rogers & Co said: “Spanish hotels and insurance companies are held hostage by the English industry. The claimant provides no evidence of illness or injury at the hotel. You just need a note from a pharmacist.”

She told an International Travlaw Network seminar in London: “The only reason claims management companies get the money is because it’s cheaper for the operators to pay than fight the claim. If you go to court the lawyer’s costs could be €30,000. They pay and then want the money from the hotel. We’re held to ransom [and] we’re angry.”

Rogers fears a UK Court of Appeal ruling in January in the case of Wood v Tui (see below) could exacerbate the problem, saying: “It means a hotel could do everything possible and still be found liable.”

Hoteliers are seeking ways of finding evidence of where people eat.

Rogers said: “Some hotels are thinking of introducing wristbands for British guests, which they must flash at every meal. Some are putting doctors in hotels.” Channel 6 reported hoteliers asking pharmacies not to sell stomach drugs to Britons without a prescription.

UK travel association Abta wrote to Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson to highlight “the negative impact on the reputation of UK holidaymakers”.

The association’s head of legal services Simon Bunce urged members “to report as many potentially fraudulent cases as possible”.

Stephen Mason, senior partner at UK travel law firm Travlaw, warned: “It will get worse this summer. I’m afraid we’re in for another rough year.”

He added: “There has been a lot of trumpeting [about Wood v Tui] from claimants’ lawyers.”

Lawyers acting for claimants suggest the ruling means it’s no longer necessary to establish fault on the part of a hotel, as required under the UK Package Travel Regulations.

The UK Court of Appeal issued its ruling on Wood v Tui in January.

Mr and Mrs Wood bought a claim against Tui Group tour operator First Choice over a case of “acute gastroenteritis” on an all-inclusive holiday at the Gran Bahia Principe Hotel in the Dominican Republic in 2011.

Mr Wood spent several days in hospital and Mrs Wood was also ill. The judge in the original claim accepted both fell ill as a result of “contaminated fare”.

However, evidence of the hotel’s care “to comply with high standards of food hygiene” led the judge to dismiss liability under the Package Travel Regulations, but instead find the tour operator liable under the UK’s Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

This appears to remove a current line of defence for tour operators and hotels against illness claims.

First Choice appealed, but the case was taken over by the hotel. The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal on the grounds that it did not contest the original finding that the pair fell ill due to consuming “contaminated fare”.

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