Luka Krsljanin discusses holiday sickness claims in The Times
Holiday sickness scams are a true disease
Last Friday the government announced its commitment to cracking down on fabricated holiday illness claims. There can be little doubt that decisive action is necessary. It is estimated that since 2013 there has been a five-fold increase in British tourists seeking compensation for being struck down by food poisoning or other illnesses while abroad, while the number of sicknesses reported to resorts has remained stable.
Fraudulent claims should concern all holidaymakers because frauds increase the prices of foreign travel.
Sometimes, it is possible to challenge fraudulent claims in the courts. Media attention tends to land on cases where the fraudsters’ social media — boastful tweets or sun-drenched Instagram photos — fatally undermine their accounts of having been trapped in their hotel rooms unwell.
A notable recent example came on the day of the government’s pledge. Deborah Briton and Paul Roberts, a British couple, were sentenced to 9 and 15 months in jail respectively after a private prosecution brought by Thomas Cook. The couple had asserted that they and their children were struck down with gastric illnesses on two different holidays. Their account was undermined by social media posts that bragged of “sun, fun and laughter”.
Thomas Cook’s private prosecution should be applauded, and it is hoped that it will embolden the industry to maintain its robust stance in defending fraudulent civil claims and, where appropriate, contemplating criminal proceedings.
However, fighting these sorts of cases is not easy. Without incriminating social media posts, it can be difficult to challenge an individual’s account of sickness. Unlike, for example, certain road traffic accident frauds, there are unlikely to be independent witnesses with clear recollections of events.
These legal battles are, furthermore, expensive. While the industry estimates the average value of a holiday sickness claim to be about £2,100, the legal costs incurred in taking a claim to trial far exceed this. In my experience, if a case is fought to trial the parties’ legal costs will usually run into the tens of thousands.
While successful prosecutions send a strong deterrent message, they will only go so far. Fraudsters will become more sophisticated and alert to the risk that their social media could undermine their cases.
After the government announcement, Christina Blacklaws, the Law Society’s vice-president, commented that “cold calling should be banned and claims companies which seek to profit from bogus or exaggerated claims must be brought to task”. This is absolutely right. Such organisations are a disgrace to the legal system. The cold callers’ siren voices assure the susceptible that it is OK to lie, that they will never be caught, and then facilitate their untruthful claims.
If we focus our energies on stamping them out and prosecuting those companies caught in the act, we can take one step closer to stemming the tide of frauds for the benefit of all.
This article was originally published in The Times and can be accessed here, behind a paywall.