Thomas Cook has successfully defended a holiday sickness claim which a judge branded “fundamentally dishonest”.
A spokesman for the operator said the win was a “significant case which which sends a clear message to claimants”.
He added: “We will not pay claims which we believe to be dishonest, and we will take further action where necessary.”
The case is considered a landmark because, typically, operators have to pay the claimant’s costs if they successfully defend a case.
The claimants in yesterday’s court case were ordered to pay the operator’s costs because the judge ruled they had been dishonest.
A couple with children aged three and 14-months booked a 14-day all-inclusive Thomas Cook holiday at the Parque Cristobal Hotel, Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria from July 29 to August 12, 2013.
In May 2016, almost three years after the holiday and without any prior warning or complaint, solicitors Bridger & Co of Landovery, Carmarthernshire, forwarded a letter claiming the whole family had suffered gastroenteritis on the third day of their holiday as a result of inadequate food hygiene at the hotel.
A claim was issued in the county court on July 21, 2016, on behalf of all the members of the family claiming damages of up to £10,000.
They argued that symptoms had continued from the third day, throughout the holiday and until after the family’s return to the UK.
Thomas Cook argued that the father completed and handed in a detailed feedback questionnaire on the four-hour flight home, with an un-answered section on illness, answering most questions about service with ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.
He told the court that the inconsistent questionnaire was filled in after he had drunk six pints of lager and that entries were either randomly ticked or ticked to put a favourable gloss on the trip so he would be more likely to benefit from a prize draw incentive for handing in the form.
The mother said her son and baby daughter had diarrhoea and vomiting for around four to five days but that she had not sought treatment, other than self-medicating with dioralyte and Calpol.
She said she had not felt any need to mention the family’s difficulties to hotel staff or Thomas Cook rep at the hotel.
When they returned home, both parents went back to work the next day and the children returned to nursery.
She also told the court that she and her daughter both saw their GP within days, but made no mention of continuing gastroenteritis symptoms.
The judge, at Liverpool County Court, found that the claimants’ accounts were “wholly implausible” and that they had not suffered any illness at all.
The court dismissed their claim and made an order that the couple, but not their children, would have to pay costs of £3,744 within 28 days.
Commenting on the ruling, Thomas Cook UK managing director Chris Mottershead said:
“We’re pleased that the judge found in our favour. It’s not comfortable for us to be in court questioning our customers’ credibility, but the significant increase in unreported illness claims being received by the travel industry threatens holidays for all UK customers.
“This case follows an increasingly common pattern for these claims, with a previously unreported illness being raised years after the holiday with no medical or other evidence to support the illness having occurred.
“In these cases, we will not accept liability and we will take further action where we believe it is necessary to protect all of our customers.”
A Thomas Cook spokesman said the company hoped that the judgment is “reflective of increasing judicial awareness of the industry’s concerns about the prevalence of fraud” and “demonstrates that the courts will not sanction dishonest claims, or accept claimants’ evidence at face value”.
Court rules stipulate claimants are only at risk of paying costs even if they lose the case if it can be demonstrated that they had been dishonest.