Industry lawyers have warned of a “rush of Covid claims” and urged travel firms to learn the lessons of holiday sickness claims and “be tough” in response.

David Scott, partner at law firm Horwich Farrelly, told an Abta Travel Law Seminar: “Claims management companies will be jumping on the bandwagon.

“It’s alarming so many companies have formed already. There are probably 700-800 companies [registered at Companies House] with Covid or coronavirus in there [in the title] and about 100 predominantly aimed at bringing claims.

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“You may not be seeing these claims at the moment, but they are coming.”

Scott said insurers had already set up teams to handle Covid claims and warned of “direct claims of contracting Covid and indirect claims such as slipping on hand sanitiser”.

Barrister Sarah Prager of 1 Chancery Lane told the seminar: “If you were a claims company, where would you go next having lost whiplash claims and holiday sickness claims? There will be a rush of Covid claims.”

Scott said: “The travel industry eventually had a tough response to holiday sickness claims, but it took us a while to get there.”

However, he said: “There are several hurdles claimants will have to get over. It will be difficult for them to prove they contracted Covid. That is a big hurdle.

“They will have to prove a breach of a duty of care or negligence, and it will be up to the claimant to prove that. You need to prove you did enough – so document your risk assessments.

Scott noted: “Duty of care is changing all the time. The risk assessments you carried out at the start of Covid won’t apply now.

“If the claimant can prove you did something wrong, they still have to prove it made a difference and that will be a big battle ground. We can still fight it.”

He insisted: “It’s inevitable these claims are going to come. But claimants have to prove they contracted the virus, that you did something wrong and that caused their illness. There are loads of ways we can challenge these claims.”

Barrister Ben Phelps of 2 Temple Gardens agreed, saying: “The travel industry needs to be tough with these claims – and there are lots of reasons to be tough.”

He argued proving an infection “without a test will mean debate about the symptoms and what else it could be. With a test, there will be a big debate about the accuracy of tests and their timing.

“With breach of duty there will be a debate because if countries are struggling with this [Covid], it is entirely fair that companies will be struggling with it.

“And proving cause [of a Covid infection] is the claimant’s burden. The defendant has the advantage here. People develop different symptoms at different stages, so how can you say ‘We developed this for this reason’. It will be simple to challenge.”

Phelps insisted: “There is every reason to be tough with these claims.”

Darren Hutton, head of international guest claims at Royal Caribbean International, warned: “There will be bogus claims and we don’t want to fund the problem.”

He said: “It’s not good advice to settle claims promptly.”

Scott said: “You can’t stop claims, whether from customers or employees. You can’t stand still with risk assessments and policies.

“If a claim is brought against you, make sure your house is in order and documents saved and speak to your lawyers.

“React fast. If you respond quickly and robustly to claims companies, they tend to go away. The key point is documenting things – that is the key lesson from holiday sickness claims.”

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