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Ski Holiday Blues

29 Jun 2010

Kevan Stronach, Legal Executive at Hay & Kilner, looks at what you can do when a holiday doesn’t quite turn out as planned.

A skiing holiday can be just what the doctor ordered in the depths of a British winter. But sometimes the experience does not live up to the expectation, and on some occasions tourists can be left injured or disabled and seriously out of pocket.

So, if something does go wrong what can you do and what are your rights? The good news is there is plenty you can do, and you may be entitled to compensation.

One of the main problems which used to face tourists was that any claims had to be brought abroad, but in 1992 the Government introduced regulations which changed this situation and substantially strengthened consumers’ rights. For example:-

  • It made the contents of a brochure into contractual terms. Put simply, you are entitled to what it says in the brochure.
  • Tour Operators, the people you make a contract with in this country, are made responsible for the performance (and negligence) of their sub-contractors. Therefore, if you are injured because your hotel is unsafe, the tour operator is responsible for the negligence of the hotel owners, and you are entitled to damages.
  • If a complaint is made to a Rep in the resort, the tour operator is obliged to take all reasonable steps to rectify the fault.

So what does all this mean when your skiing holiday goes wrong? Problems can take many forms. Skiing is a dangerous sport, and some of the worst holiday disasters take place on the slopes. If, for example your hired equipment fails, and the hire was part of the package you bought, the tour operator is responsible. Similarly, if your ski guide fails to give you correct instructions, so that you ski over a steep drop and are injured, again you may be able to sue the tour operator.

Of course not all holiday problems lead to someone being injured. You may also be entitled to compensation if your accommodation is not up to standard, or advertised attractions such as entertainment or Children’s Club are not available.

However you must remember that your Tour Operator is only responsible for the parts of the package that they sell you. Therefore, in a recent case where a holidaymaker was injured on a ski lift he could not sue the Tour Operator because the lift pass was not sold as part of the package. The moral is to include as much as possible in the package (although beware this may be more expensive than buying separately).

If something does go wrong, what should you do? Here are a few suggestions:-

  • Complain to the Rep in the resort. They are obliged to help. If you don’t give them the chance to put it right, you may not be entitled to as much by way of damages.
  • Obtain evidence of problems. Take photographs and a video. Make sure you have a copy of the written report the Rep makes of your complaint.
  • Obtain the names and addresses of any witnesses and other people involved. If they also have claims you may be able to launch a group (or class) action. This situation can arise if, for example, there is an outbreak of food poisoning at a hotel, or a coach crash in which a number of people are injured.

Claims by groups have many benefits such as sharing costs. Also it is more difficult to deny there has been a problem if a large number of people complain about the same thing. It is also not unknown for tour operators and their insurers to try to buy off individual claims very cheaply, and this is much more difficult with a co-ordinated class action. Legal aid may also be available for a class action.

When you get back, make a claim promptly. There are often time limits set out in the Tour Company’s Terms and Conditions of Trading which allow you a very short time, perhaps as little as 3 to 4 weeks to make a claim

Finally, take specialist advice. There are solicitors who specialise in personal injury claims and claims arising out of holidays generally. Also, if you do want to be part of a class action, consult a firm experienced in such matters, such as those on the Legal Services Commission Multi-Party Action Panel. You should also make sure your solicitors have the necessary international connections to carry out any enquiries which may be required abroad.

For further information, please contact Kevan Stronach on 0191 232 8345 or email: Kevan.Stronach@hay-kilner.co.uk 

Please note:
This article is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues. Please contact us to discuss how the contents of the article may affect you.