Operators welcomed government plans to crack down on fraudulent holiday sickness claims as Thomas Cook won a “significant” court case this week.
A month after Travel Weekly launched its Fight Fake Claims campaign, the Ministry of Justice vowed to limit legal costs for tour operators fighting claims, reducing cash incentives for law firms and claims management companies.
This followed advice from Abta and was one of the Fight Fake Claims demands.
Personal injury claims in England and Wales already fall within a government online scheme limiting costs for claims between £1,000 and £25,000. The Ministry of Justice now plans to extend this to holiday sickness cases abroad.
Justice secretary David Lidington said the actions of false claimants “will not be tolerated”, adding:
“We are addressing this issue.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer welcomed efforts to stop firms from “unduly profiting from false claims”, but called on the government “to increase transparency between claims firms and solicitors”.
Nick Longman, Tui UK and Ireland managing director, said: “This is a really encouraging first step to helping combat what is a major issue”. But he stressed there is more work to do.
A Jet2holidays spokesman said the company was “happy to hear the government is on the side of holidaymakers” but it would be pushing to make sure the government “follows through on its promise”.
Maria Pittordis, partner at legal firm Hill Dickinson, said the government needed to insist claimants provide more medical evidence to support claims, which she said should be lodged sooner.
A couple who lodged a sickness claim for up to £10,000 against Thomas Cook in May 2016 were ordered to pay almost £4,000 in costs after the judge threw out their case. They claimed they had fallen ill at the Parque Cristobal hotel in Gran Canaria in 2013, along with their two children.
The judge at Liverpool County Court ruled the couple had been “fundamentally dishonest” and ordered them to pay £3,744 costs.
A Cook spokesman said the decision was “significant” because costs are typically covered by the operator, unless they can prove a claim is knowingly dishonest rather than unproven.
The couple had not reported being ill while on holiday.
Cook’s UK managing director, Chris Mottershead, said: “This case follows a common pattern: a previously unreported illness raised years after the holiday with no medical evidence.”
Crackdown is good start by government
Maria Pittordis, head of marine trade and energy and partner at City law firm Hill Dickinson, said the government had made a “good start” in its crackdown on bogus holiday sickness claims by reducing operator costs.
But she said it needed to follow that by insisting on a higher burden of proof for claimants, such as providing more medical evidence and lodging claims sooner.
She told Travel Weekly: “It’s a good start. It will keep costs down, which will make it less attractive as a means of income for lawyers and claims management companies.
“But it’s not going to make fraudulent claims go away. There’s still three years’ worth of claims to deal with. There needs to be more evidence provided to show claimants were ill in resort and there should be a shorter period to bring civil proceedings.” Pittordis also called on hotels to insist illness is reported in resort.
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