Claims firms fan surge in bogus illness claims

Claims firms fan surge in bogus illness claims

Claims management companies are fuelling “an explosion” in gastric illness (GI) claims by UK holidaymakers in what a leading industry lawyer calls “a money‑making process”.

Maria Pittordis, head of marine trade and energy and partner at City law firm Hill Dickinson, said: “There has to be some forceful claims handling.”

She told a Hill Dickinson travel law seminar: “There has been an explosion in GI claims. We’re seeing not just multi-party actions from people who have been on the same cruise or stayed in the same hotel, but from people who have been on different cruises, sometimes even different hotels in different resorts. It’s a money-making process for lawyers.

“The illness is hardly ever specified. They say it’s [an] infective bacterial or viral [agent].”

She added: “We’ve seen a lot of reports of fraudulent claims. They’re always mixed with ‘quality’ complaints, most of which wouldn’t get costs if brought on their own, but mixed with GI claims in a multi-party action they’re going to recover costs as well.”

Pittordis added: “It seems UK holidaymakers who go to Spain become ill when nobody else does, even in the same resort.

“You have claims management companies asking people ‘Have you been ill on holiday in the last two and a half years?’

“My husband received a call from one of these companies asking if he had recently been on an all-inclusive package holiday. He said ‘Yes’. They said ‘Were you ill?’ He said ‘No’. They said ‘Are you sure?’ He said ‘Yes’. They said ‘You know if you were ill you could claim up to £5,000.’ These are the kind of tactics we’re seeing.”

Marc Ripoll, a lawyer acting on behalf of hoteliers and insurance companies in Spain, said: “For hoteliers with all-inclusive business it’s a nightmare. Claims arrive after two to three years. I have clients who say 90% of English [holidaymakers’] claims are fraudulent.”

He told the seminar: “We’re not saying no people get sick. But we know for sure there has been fraud. We don’t have illness claims from other countries.”

Pittordis agreed: “You don’t know a claim is fraudulent – you have to look at it. But if you start investigating every claim it entails a lot of cost.”

Insurance broker Alan Pattinson, of Travel Risk Professionals, said: “We see these claims daily. Some are spurious, some are completely and utterly fraudulent, but they still have to be defended and, in some cases, may need to be settled.

“We’re not working towards squeezing out genuine claims. [But] we need to mitigate the industry exposure to exaggerated and fraudulent claims.”

Two changes, in April 2013, appear to have fuelled the boom in claims. One was the introduction of ‘Qualified one-way costs shifting’ in personal injury claims. Pittordis said: “It means you can win a case but you won’t get costs unless you show the claim was fraudulent, which is difficult.” This means there is pressure to settle rather than challenge claims.

The other was the introduction of an online system offering fixed costs on personal injury claims worth between £1,000 and £25,000, excluding claims relating to incidents overseas. It means holiday claims have become “the best kind of claim to bring”, said Pittordis, and illness claims “the kind you can multiply”. Claims companies have piled into the area.

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