Leading travel industry lawyers have accused claims firms of exploiting the deaths of two Thomas Cook customers in Egypt to “drum up” holiday sickness complaints.
Susan Cooper, a 63-year-old Thomas Cook agent, and her husband John, 69, died suddenly while on holiday with the operator at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel in Hurghada on August 21.
Investigations into their deaths are still under way, with speculation over the likely cause ranging from natural causes to fumigation, carbon monoxide poisoning and legionnaires’ disease.
But since the deaths, law firms specialising in sickness claims have highlighted gastroenteritis cases, some involving customers who had stayed at the Red Sea resort more than two years ago.
Travlaw partner Matt Gatenby said it was “unfair” to make any links between these cases and the cause of the couple’s deaths.
“At the moment it’s not helpful,” he said. “There’s no reason to be raising [the claims] other than to drum up work.
“The [law] firms highlighting this are not doing anything illegal, but ultimately they are firms that get business by generating claims against tour operators.”
Joanna Kolatsis, director of Themis Advisory, agreed it was unfair of claims firms to link historical gastric illness issues with the deaths. “It’s being done for their own gain, which is wrong, especially on the back of a case like this,” she said.
Leading claims firm Bott & Co announced it had been instructed by holidaymaker Diane Corrigan, 48, of Manchester, to act on a case against Thomas Cook from April.
Corrigan alleges she became ill with diarrhoea and sickness and complained of “under-cooked” and “recycled” food and “dirty cutlery” at the Aqua Magic hotel.
Bott & Co legal manager Andrew Peters said: “Recent events reinforce the importance of consumers having the right to hold tour operators accountable.” He added the firm had 50 sickness enquiries involving the hotel.
Solicitors firm JMW released details of a £26,000 claim it settled in favour of a family of four staying at the hotel in April 2016. The firm said the case highlighted poor hygiene and record keeping.
Abta urged holidaymakers with genuine sickness claims to speak directly with tour operators.
A spokesman said: “Claims management companies will always encourage people to submit claims for holiday sickness.”
Thomas Cook reported “an increase in sickness among guests” since its health and safety team arrived at the Steigenberger hotel following the Coopers’ deaths.
Travel Weekly and Abta campaigns
Travel Weekly and Abta have been running simultaneous campaigns to tackle the rise in fraudulent holiday sickness claims.
Fight Fake Claims and Stop Sickness Scams were launched in summer 2017 in response to a 500% rise in holiday sickness claims between 2013 and 2016.
A industry-wide effort to tackle the claims management companies believed to be responsible for generating most unscrupulous claims has gathered momentum since the campaigns began.
Campaigning has so far led to the introduction in May of a fixed-costs regime for claims and a government crackdown on the issue. Operators including Tui, Thomas Cook and Jet2holidays have reported court victories over “fundamentally dishonest” claimants.
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