In an earlier blog, Children unlawfully killed in Corfu hotel - should Thomas Cook be compensated?, I talked about how helpful the Package Travel Regulations are, but unfortunately they don’t always apply.

A client of mine was involved in a very serious road accident in Egypt.  She was travelling in a desert safari tour (which had been organised by her hotel) when the vehicle inexplicably left the road.  Her husband was one of two people to die in the accident, and she herself received serious injuries. 

Upon returning to England she started legal proceedings in the High Court.  We named the Defendant as the Four Seasons Hotel chain on the basis that all of its publicity material lead our client to believe that they were responsible for both the hotel in which she was staying, and the tour on which the accident happened.

The lawyers for the Four Seasons responded by saying that the hotel was in fact owned by an Egyptian company, and that the desert safari was organised by a separate limousine company.  This was despite the fact that the Four Seasons website and everything about the hotel itself gave every indication to our client that she had been dealing only with the Four Seasons, not two previously unheard of Egyptian companies.

We argued that in law the Four Seasons were “agents acting for a non-disclosed principal”.  This means that when they lead our client to believe that she was dealing with them, they therefore accepted responsibility if something went wrong, and could not then say that true legal ownership for the hotel lay with a different company.  This is a good example of the law working in a fair and practical way. 

Just as an aside – this is why holiday brochures will often include a very clear disclaimer along the lines of “Although the XY Hotel is affiliated to the XY Hotels Group it is independently owned and managed, and your holiday contract will be with that independent company”.

No such disclaimer was included in any of the information given to our client, and there was obvious commercial advantage in this – both to the Four Seasons Hotel chain and the Egyptian company.  It suited both of their purposes to have customers think that they are booking with a reputable international chain.  Had our client not thought so, she would not have stayed in that hotel.

The case went to the Court of Appeal, which handed down its judgment on the 3 July 2015 – see Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Incorporated (2015) EWCA C(iv) 665.

The Court agreed with us, and held that the Four Seasons Hotel chain was the correct Defendant.  It also confirmed that the English Court had jurisdiction to hear the case arising from the breach of contract, along with some aspects of a claim in negligence.

The Court accepted some of the Defendant’s arguments about the extent to which victims of foreign accidents can bring proceedings in the English Courts.  It said that there could be no claim on behalf of our client’s late husband’s estate, and that neither could our client sue for her personal injuries in this country.  If she wishes to bring those claims she will need to issue proceedings in Egypt.  However, the Court did say that she can sue for the major element of her claim, which is based upon her loss of financial dependency on her late husband’s earnings.

In practical terms, what this Judgment means is that our client won the Appeal, but the Court has rather closed the door to future cases by other claimants.  In doing so, it upheld the principles of recently introduced European regulations (Rome II) which amongst other things, say that if an accident happens in another country, the starting point is that the claim must be brought there.

In making this decision the Court of Appeal overruled some very helpful cases in which the English Courts had sought to bring cases involving English claimants within its jurisdiction.  Nevertheless it is still a great victory, and shows that large and powerful international companies can be held accountable for their actions.

Over the next month or so, many many Britons will travel abroad for their holidays, and most will return safely, with happy memories.  For some that will not be the case, and they will have to seek legal advice.  The moral that emerges from this case, and from other cases that I have dealt with, is that although the law can be difficult and unhelpful, it can also be very practical, and offer good solutions.