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Trouble abroad – when severe injury turns holidays to hell



NRT: What does your job involve?
CP: Our team deals exclusively with claims on behalf of people who are injured somewhere other than in their home country. We predominantly represent English people who are injured on holiday or working abroad, but sometimes we represent claimants from other countries injured here in England and Wales. We deal with cross-border litigation, where we often have to consider whether a different country’s laws might apply or govern the claim. Sometimes there’s a choice as to where you bring the claim, and there are often arguments about which law will determine how much compensation a claimant can expect to receive.

We represent people who have suffered serious injuries – predominantly brain, spinal cord and multiple orthopaedic injuries. We also represent the families of people who have been fatally injured abroad. We have clients who have been injured in road traffic accidents, whilst working abroad, whilst out and about in public areas on holiday, on cruise ships or in plane crashes. We also often represent people who are injured in hotels. For example, I currently represent a lady who was on a package holiday and suffered a severe brain injury when she tripped and fell down a 10 foot drop onto concrete while she was on the way back to her hotel room one evening.

Cheryl Palmer-Hughes

What does a typical day look like?
What’s interesting in our team is that you might have a client who is injured in a particular way, for example, in a car accident. Though you may have dealt with those factual circumstances before, if the new case you are looking at involves an incident in a different country, you effectively have to start from scratch in terms of establishing where you can bring the claim, which country’s law will apply etc .

Different countries have different rules about time limits, about how you evidence a claim and ways of calculating the compensation. There are special rules about time limits in some countries. These can depend on whether you are pursuing a claim against a state run entity or a private company or individual.

When we first get instructions we have to think very carefully about where we might bring the claim (ie in which country), and on what basis. Sometimes it is clear cut and there is only one way forward, but often there are different options and we have to consider which is the most beneficial to our client.

We have a network of lawyers across the world who help us with those specific points of foreign law and then we compare all of the options enabling us to advise our client as to which strategy might be the best way forward.

Which countries have you pursued claims in, and which have been the most challenging?
We represent a lot of people who have been injured in Europe, including in France, Spain, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic.

We also have claims arising out of accidents elsewhere such as Canada and in the US. It can be particularly challenging to bring claims in some countries such as India, Turkey and Thailand, where standards are often very low which makes it difficult to show that there was a breach of those standards – and even if we can overcome that hurdle, compensation awards can also be very low. We draw on our experience of other claims, and on our network of foreign lawyers, to enable us to assess each potential new claim on a case by case basis.

What are some of the challenges you face in your job generally?
One of the biggest issues we have is making sure there is a viable defendant. We want the defendant to be insured, because most individuals won’t have enough capital to satisfy any judgment we get for a person who is very badly injured, and it is not always clear whether a company would have sufficient assets to satisfy a judgment either. In addition, even if there is an insurance policy, there are often caps on how much a person can claim against that insurance company and so we need to ascertain whether any such caps apply and, if so, what they are.

Have you seen any trends in injuries abroad in recent years?
Over the past couple of years, we have noticed that we are increasingly being approached by clients who have been injured in quad biking accidents. More recently, we’ve also seen more and more back injuries from incidents on water slides. With quad bikes it tends to be the passenger who is more badly injured, with the driver able to hold onto the handle bars, whereas the passengers get thrown off. One of my clients was thrown over the handlebars, and another off what can only be described as a cliff edge.

It seems to me that a lot of people would normally think very carefully before taking a new type of vehicle straight out on the road without having had any training or instruction when they are at home. When people go on holiday it is understandable that they are a bit more relaxed and want to enjoy their time more and experience something new. It is important that there are procedures in place to protect holidaymakers in these circumstances.

I am of the strong view that quad bike hire companies should be obliged to give more in-depth training to holidaymakers before they are allowed to leave with a quad bike. From what I hear from my clients, they are often not given any sort of instruction at all.

What advice would you give to someone who has suffered an injury abroad?
Get advice as soon as you can. A lot of people have to deal with getting their loved ones home and getting medical treatment so it’s not always the first thing they think about, but it if they can seek that advice as early as possible, we can start collecting evidence at an early stage and we can try and help out practically too – be that by dealing with insurers, or arranging for one of our client liaison managers to go and visit the claimant and his or her family to offer assistance with accessing medical treatment or benefits.

Aside from that, I would be sure to have decent travel insurance, that’s absolutely key. You increasingly see people crowdfunding to get their loved ones home because they don’t have travel insurance to cover those costs. That must be incredibly stressful for all involved.

People often think that their E111 [European health insurance] card will just cover everything, which is not always the case and obviously that will change in the future. Generally speaking you just can’t go wrong with having a decent travel insurance policy.

Cheryl Palmer-Hughes is a senior associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell.



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