The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused the travel industry to grind to a halt, with hundreds of thousands of UK holidaymakers unable to go on planned trips abroad during lockdown.

The knock-on impact of this is huge – not only affecting jobs but the types of foreign jurisdiction claims that are being discussed by Thompsons’ specialist teams.

Martyn Gwyther, head of overseas accident claims at Thompsons Solicitors, discusses the impact the pandemic has had on travel-related claims for injuries abroad and cancelled holidays, as well a potential for an increase in claims around poor health and safety practices for employees and travellers alike, as the virus continues to spread.

Impact on travel and travel-related claims

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the number of people travelling has substantially decreased. This has led to a reduction in the number of personal injury claims relating to accidents abroad.

The most common foreign jurisdiction issues during this period include cancelled flights and package holidays, as well as health and safety concerns for those travelling.

Here we unpick the government advice and set out your rights for issues relating to foreign jurisdiction and travel.

Cancelled flights

From 17 March, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised British people against all non-essential travel worldwide for an indefinite period during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For many travellers, their flights have been cancelled, leading to confusion about their legal rights and how to claim refunds for this disruption.

In terms of cancelled flights, travel companies and carriers are currently offering refunds in the form of:

  • Credit vouchers for future travel – valid for 12 months;
  • Full refunds.

According to the relevant European Regulations (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004), which sets out common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, consumers are entitled to a full cash refund within 14 days.

It would appear that many carriers are complying with this obligation, if pushed by consumers, but would generally prefer that people accept travel vouchers instead.

It is therefore important that consumers know their rights and ensure they push companies to offer them a refund, in the event that their flight is cancelled and they are unable to travel.

Package holidays

Package holidays are the source of further confusion for consumers.

Under the Package Travel and Linked Arrangements Regulations 2018, consumers who bought a package holiday are also entitled to full cash refunds, within 14 days of cancellation from the tour operators.

However, much like a number of airline carriers, it seems that many tour operators are not complying with this obligation and are preferring to offer vouchers instead. Many of them have argued that paying out all money to customers within 14 days would not be financially viable as, in many cases, they are awaiting payment from their suppliers at holiday resorts (hoteliers, transport groups and excursion groups).

A number of tour operators have requested that the government extends their time limits – however this is not an easy ask and, if refused, could leave the tour operators facing small claims actions for failing to pay consumers what they are owed.

Health and safety concerns relating to travel

Health and safety while travelling is more important than ever during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

There are a number of potential claims that could be brought against companies for failing to follow health and safety protocols. Examples may include:

  • Inadequate health screening in holiday resorts, both domestic and overseas;
  • Inadequate health screening on cruise liners;
  • Inadequate cleaning, or failure to deep clean resorts and cruise liners;
  • Failure to effectively quarantine guests showing symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Claims against employers whose staff travel abroad

For employers who ignored government advice, claims could also be made.

In the event that employers caused or permitted employees to work, when government guidance changed to avoid unnecessary travel and to implement social distancing, claims could be brought against them.

Employers are under a duty to ensure “so far as is reasonably practicable” the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.

Employers must:

  • Assess the risks at work of coronavirus (COVID-19);
  • Implement preventive measures;
  • Monitor and review working conditions in consultation with employees and health and safety representatives.

Claims are likely against employers who failed to implement these measures initially and also caused or permitted employees to work during the coronavirus lockdown.

Foreign accident claims

To learn more about foreign jurisdiction claims and how Thompsons can help, click here: