Mr Sewell sustained serious injuries when he slipped on a gangplank whilst attempting to board his holiday cruise liner, which he had paid for as part of a package holiday. He subsequently pursued a compensation claim against Saga Holidays.
The tour operator alleged that Mr Sewell fell on part of the gangplank which was provided by the local Port Authority rather than the ship. In particular it relied upon the following clause contained in its booking conditions, which read 'the areas and facilities surrounding your holiday accommodation, such as beaches and local amenities, do not form part of your holiday accommodation with Saga and have not been inspected….'. The tour operator suggested the gangplank was part of the 'local amenities', and that it was therefore the responsibility of the Port rather than the owner of the ship.
This argument was rejected by the county court judge and then subsequently on appeal. The defendant was instead found liable on the basis that:
- the gangplank fell within the control of the vessel and not the Port Authority;
- the arrangement outlined above was hazardous and constituted 'an obstacle course';
- the vessel owners, for whom the defendant was liable pursuant to the package travel regulations,
owed a duty to provide assistance to passengers whilst boarding the ship;
- the ship owners recognised this duty;
- the 'local amenities' clause in the booking conditions was therefore irrelevant;
- whilst there may have been a crew member present at the gangplank, no assistance was given to
- the supplier owed a duty to provide assistance, but did not do so.
On appeal the main question for the court was whether Saga Holidays owed a duty to provide a safe means of access to and from the ship. Unsurprisingly the appeal judge concluded that it did. He also reiterated that the gangplank was not a 'local amenity', but instead a means of accessing local amenities.