A law firm that has defended 2,000 spurious holiday sickness claims is now pursuing the individuals and companies behind them. Ben Ireland reports, a year after the launch of Travel Weekly’s Fight Fake Claims campaign

A zero-tolerance approach to dubious claims has helped one law firm overturn more than 2,000 made in relation to holiday sickness.

Manchester-based Horwich Farrelly is now using evidence it gathered to defend tour operators to bring the individuals and claims management companies (CMCs) that tried to beat the system to book.

Partner Mark Hudson said the first major hurdle had been convincing operators that taking a firm stance against all claims was a better option than paying out amid fear of racking up huge legal costs.

“If you give in from the start, you’re actively encouraging claims,” he said. “We didn’t believe it was cheaper to settle [out of court]. I accept that was often the tour operators’ perception. We’ve now shown that to be the case.”

When Horwich Farrelly looked at the broader picture, it found companies issuing pre-action disclosures applications, racking up “huge costs” and “making threats”. Hudson described the behaviour as “utter lunacy from a legal perspective” and “fishing for information”.

As a result, Horwich Farrelly told tour operators it was confident that significant numbers of claims could be fought successfully.

“We communicated to claimants that this was a nonsense tactic. They knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on and applications quickly fell. If any could be bothered to take it to court, we thought they would lose.”

Around 25 pre-action disclosure applications that went to court were defended.

Since the dismissals, Horwich Farrelly has seen the number of claims fall “in their droves”.

The firm is now privately prosecuting “a number of claimants” it wants to prove to have been fundamentally dishonest, and has passed information about some of them, and certain CMCs and certain solicitors, to Merseyside Police, the Ministry of Justice and Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Holidaymakers, CMCs and law firms could face charges of fraud, contempt, dishonesty or offences under theft laws. Prosecutions could lead to exemplary and punitive damages being ordered.

“Once these organisations are involved, it’s a real deterrent,” he said. “We’ve been presented with some really compelling and irrefutable evidence.”

Abta’s Tanzer hails success so far but is ‘not complacent’

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer has hailed the success of the campaigns against bogus sickness claims.

“I’m really pleased at the way Abta, the members and destinations worked to have a joint approach in getting the government to change the law,” he said. “We’re seeing some lawyers pulling claims because they can see the attitude the courts are taking.”

Tanzer added: “We’re not complacent. These claims management companies move from area to area and we want to ensure they don’t pop up somewhere else. But we are a long way from where we were.”

He said relations with “some hotel associations”, which felt the UK industry was pushing the costs of claims on to hotels, “are back on an even keel”.

Abta launched its campaign last June, the same month as Travel Weekly’s Fight Fake Claims began. Tanzer said: “We managed to bring everyone together and Travel Weekly’s campaign was part of it in the media just as we were putting arguments to government. It has been a good collaboration.”

Red Sea wins case brought by a lawyer

A sickness claim brought against Red Sea Holidays by a customer who was a trainee lawyer has been dismissed.

The Egypt specialist faced legal action from Gemma Hoyle and her husband. They filed for damages of up to £7,500 after claiming to have suffered from a diarrhoea bug as a result of contaminated food at the Grand Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh in June 2015. Despite visiting a doctor on her return, Hoyle, who works as a trainee conveyancer for Yorkshire firm Chadwick Lawrence, had no formal diagnosis of the illness.

District judge Ackroyd said: “She cannot establish on the balance of probabilities that the food was causative of her illness.”

MorePolice probe ‘fraudulent’ sickness firms

Travel Weekly’s Fight Fake Claims campaign