Tour operators are taking a ‘more forensic approach’ to sickness claims. Ian Taylor reports

Thomas Cook has a team of lawyers “forensically” reviewing holiday sickness claims as it seeks to drive down the number of fraudulent claims.

Rebecca White, Thomas Cook senior legal counsel for litigation, said: “Thomas Cook’s experience reflects that of the entire industry.

“We saw a dramatic spike in gastric illness claims into last year. Abta data showed a significant surge.”

White, who began working for Thomas Cook a year ago, said industry efforts appear to be having an impact.

She told a Hill Dickinson travel law seminar at the end of last year: “Levels [of claims] are going down and we take encouragement from that, but we’re cautious about it. We can’t afford to take our foot off the gas.”

Abta launched a Stop Sickness Scams consumer campaign last summer, with Travel Weekly promoting a Fight Fake Claims campaign in the industry.

However, lawyers acting for hotel insurers in Spain have claimed the costs of claims are rising as UK tour operators fight back (Travel Weekly, January 25).

White revealed: “We forensically scrutinise every claim.
“We have an inhouse team and use external providers.

“If we think a claim is fraudulent, we won’t pay it. We would rather take our chances in court.

“Ultimately, it comes to me and the Thomas Cook head of legal to decide whether we fight a claim or think it’s genuine.

“We’ll run a case if we don’t think it was the hotel and we don’t think the claimant can prove it was the hotel.”

She said: “We try to educate customers to report if they are ill, and we’re more inclined to treat such claims as genuine when we get them.

“The genuine claims generally come in shortly after holidays. If you’ve been severely affected [by gastric illness] and you’re convinced it was the food at the hotel, I would have thought you would complain immediately. Two years later you would barely remember.”

White added: “If you’re not telling the truth you tend to come unstuck in the witness box. It’s about inconsistencies in evidence.

“Having an answer for everything can become unconvincing. If you are ill it’s a fairly simple story.”

Cook has won at least two highprofile legal cases since taking a tougher approach.

White said: “We’ve had some encouragement from the courts. Going back a few years, it was very difficult to win a gastric illness claim.

“Of late we’ve had some positive judgments – it is acknowledged that there is fraud [and] the claimant is no longer always going to be given the benefit of the doubt.

“We’re heading in the right direction, but we need to keep the pressure up. I don’t think the claims management companies are any less active. It’s a lot to do with the fact that the industry has tightened up its defence strategies, applying a more forensic approach.”

She insisted: “This is fraud. It has to stop. It is having a massive impact, not just on the industry but on our suppliers abroad, on innocent customers, on genuine claimants.

“It will drive up prices. We could end up losing the allinclusive model and, frankly, some of Europe’s [hoteliers] don’t want to trade with the British market anymore.”

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