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*Based on solicitor data 24th May 2017

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Jenny Jones

Panel Senior Litigator

Holiday accidents outside the UK

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office reports yearly on the number of British people needing hospitalisation abroad.  The number reported in 2013/14 was 3,157 but the number of people who suffer minor injuries dealt with outside of hospitals is far greater.

Research carried out by the Post Office in 2015 showed that an estimated 4.4m British people had been injured whilst travelling of on holiday in the previous 3 years.

If you have sustained an injury or illness while on holiday as the result of another party's negligence, you may be entitled to make a compensation claim. To find out whether you can claim following an accident or illness in another country, call 0800 612 7456 (+44 800 612 7456) to speak to a specialist solicitor, or request a callback.

"How long do I have to make a holiday injury or illness claim?"

Under English law, the time limit for most claims is three years from the date you learned of your injury or illness.

The time limit (or limitation date) for making a compensation claim following an accident or illness abroad will vary, and holidaymakers are advised to act quickly to ensure they have enough time to pursue a claim.

If a UK-based tour operator is legally responsible for your accident then the usual three-year limit will likely apply. If another party based abroad was responsible for your injuries, you may have more or less time to start a claim.

Circumstances of injury or illnessLimitation date*
During a package holiday:
  • In the hotel
  • On a flight
  • Aboard a cruise ship
  • During an excursion or activity included in the package
3 years
During a holiday or travel abroad booked privately (not as part of a package holiday)Varies - see Time Limit Calculator for more information
On an international flight booked privately (not as part of a package holiday)2 years

*The time you have left to make a holiday-related claim can vary according to a range of factors. For more information, calculate how much time you have left to make a claim here.

Do injury claim rules vary from country to country?

Claim time limits can vary considerably between states. Many countries also have restrictions on whether certain claims can be made, and set out steps that must be followed to make specific types of injury claim.

Country-specific information for claiming compensation
Holiday accident and injury claims in Greece
Holiday accident and injury claims in Spain
Holiday accident and injury claims in Turkey
Holiday accident and injury claims in Portugal

Package tour injury claims

When a package holiday is booked through a UK-based tour operator, claims for injuries sustained abroad can be pursued against the holiday company. This has been the case since the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 came into effect in 2002.

Any travel, hotel stay or excursion or activity that was included in your package holiday booking is likely to be covered by the legislation.

The Regulations make it much easier for injured holidaymakers to receive compensation, and ensure Claimants have more time to consider their options. Making a claim through the legal system of a foreign country can be more complex, and time limits for making a claim abroad may be much shorter.

The injury or illness should be reported to the tour company's representative at the resort. If there is no rep available, a report should be made to the operator's UK head office.

Non-package tour injury claims

Making an injury claim as an independent traveller

The Package Tour Regulations do not protect injured travellers who booked their flights or accommodation independently.

Independent travellers who have been injured or become ill while on holiday in another country must, in most cases, make a claim through that country's legal system.

The complexity and duration of claims brought through foreign courts varies widely. Some UK-based solicitors will be able to offer initial advice as to how to proceed and may also be able to recommend a local lawyer if their own firm is unable to act on the Claimant's behalf.

Other claims during a package holiday

The regulations may not apply to an accident or illness sustained during a package holiday, if the cause occurred during an activity, or at a venue, that was not included in the package.

Examples of activities that may fall outside the regulations include:

Common categories of holiday injury and illness claim

Food poisoning abroad

One of the most common holiday illnesses is food poisoning - Salmonella poisoning can be particularly serious. Salmonella bacteria are often found in dairy products, meat and fish and can cause severe gastrointestinal problems, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. Parts of the world where stomach poisoning is more commonly reported by travellers include Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

E. coli, Staphylococcus Aureus, Shigella, Campylobacter and Clostridium Botulinum bacteria can also lead to Salmonella like symptoms.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported a total of 831 cases of travel-associated Legionnaires' disease in a single year, however worldwide the figure is likely to be much higher.

Swimming pool accidents

Slips and trips around hotel swimming pools and in water parks are a common cause of injury to holidaymakers. Foot injuries including lacerations are also frequently reported, with swimmers being cut by sharp tiles or drains. If not treated properly, cuts can become infected, leading to more serious illness and medical intervention.

Hotels and pool operators are likely to owe a duty of care to people using pool facilities, including a responsibility to keep the pool clean and in safe working order. Pool staff may also be required to use signage to warn users of dangers including trip hazards and slippery surfaces. It may be possible to demonstrate negligence if these steps are not followed, and photographs can be useful evidence of a breach.

Waterborne illness on holiday

Ice cubes, drinking water and swimming pools can all be contaminated by waterborne diseases. Common diseases include Cryptosporidium poisoning and Leptospirosis (Weil's disease).

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office may recommend drinking only bottled water when travelling to certain countries, and hygiene standards can vary between countries. However, a package tour provider is likely to be liable for an illness resulting from a hotel's negligence, even in higher-risk parts of the world.

Water can become contaminated following exposure to algae, untreated sewage, poor filtration, leaking pipes and chemical poisoning, including chlorine used to clean pools.

Some gastrointestinal illnesses leave little evidence following recovery, making it important to act quickly if you become ill to gather supporting medical evidence.

Road traffic accidents in other countries

Road traffic accidents abroad are not uncommon. Hire cars and mopeds, different road protocols, such as driving on the right hand side and an unfamiliarity with the area can all increase risk when driving abroad. Nevertheless, if another party is responsible (e.g. another driver or the driver of a taxi or bus you are riding in) for the accident, it is likely that you can claim compensation.

Motorway driving abroad can be particularly dangerous for UK drivers. In some countries, including Italy and Greece, you only have two years from the date of an accident to make a road traffic accident claim.

Promptly reporting the accident to local police is recommended, and in some countries may be a necessary step before a claim can succeed.

Skiing accident claims

Skiing and snowboarding accidents frequently result in serious injury. Claims can arise following the recklessness of another skier, the negligence of a ski instructor or resort staff, or faulty equipment. Poor piste management can also result in avalanches, or injuries arising from falls and collisions with poorly signposted hazards.

Adventure sports claims

Extreme and adventure sports, including rock climbing, skydiving, rafting and caving carry risks beyond those faced on a more conventional holiday, and safety standards across the world vary widely.

Evidence suggests that newer sports, such as base jumping, are among the most dangerous. The increased risk does not protect negligent trainers and operators against injury claims, and in many jurisdictions an individual can still make a personal injury claim even if they have "signed a waiver".

Travel insurance may not cover adventure sports activities, meaning that a compensation claim against the party responsible may be the only route for a Claimant to cover the cost of their medical treatment and emergency travel home.

Airline accidents and illness claims

Cabin crew spilling hot food or drinks into a passenger's lap is a common cause of burns and scalding injury on an aeroplane. Passengers have also sustained injury from bags and suitcases falling from overhead lockers, and crashes or rough landings can also cause much more serious injury.

The Montreal Convention is an international treaty between 118 states (and the European Union) that standardises many rules relating to international air travel. Article 17 of the Convention provides for the fast resolution of claims following an injury during a flight, or in the "operation of embarking or disembarking".

Under the Convention, it may be possible to claim for injury or illness during a flight even where it has not been proven that the airline was at fault, unlike most categories of personal injury.

The limitation date for making an injury claim under the Convention is 2 years. Due to the shorter time limit, injured passengers are recommended to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Claiming for illness on board a cruise ship

Widespread outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness can occur aboard cruise ships, including norovirus, Legionnaires' disease and the Norwalk virus, with the confined space and lack of easy hospital access causing the infection to rapidly spread.

It can be more difficult to claim compensation for isolated cases of illness, however, and evidence including medical reports and witness statements can significantly improve the likelihood of making a successful claim.

Natural disasters and personal injury claims

Severe weather events, earthquakes, tsunami and other natural disasters can cause widespread injury. In recent years, Britons abroad have been affected by the Nepalese earthquake, flooding in India and Bangladesh and North American storms.

Making a personal injury claim under these circumstances, however, can be challenging. In many cases, it will not be possible to demonstrate that another party owed the Claimant a duty of care, and that this party was negligent.

Whether a claim is likely to succeed will be dependent on the facts of the case and applicable legislation. Potential Claimants are advised to solicitor for more information.

What to do if you have sustained an accident or illness abroad

Whether you have returned home to the UK, are being treated in a hospital abroad, or are continuing with your holiday, following these steps can give your claim a better chance of success:

  • Seek appropriate medical attention
  • Contact your travel insurance provider
  • Gather evidence such as photographs of the scene
  • Take the names and addresses or contact details of any witnesses
  • Document the accident or cause of your injury or illness in as much detail as you can
  • Report the accident as appropriate (e.g. to the holiday representative, airline, hotel etc)

These steps are still worth taking even if some time has elapsed. Additionally, if you have a road traffic accident abroad, you should:

  • Report the incident to local police
  • Not admit liability or engage in any formal correspondence without advice from a suitably-qualified lawyer

Travel insurance and personal injury claims

Figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) show a record number of people needing help from their travel insurers after suffering an illness or accident abroad.

Approximately £5.3 million is paid out every week to cover treatment costs. Accidents and illnesses abroad are broadly similar to those that happen at home, although holidaymakers tend to take greater risks - often unwittingly.

Travel insurance should cover you for any medical treatment costs. Insurance does not usually cover you for general damages, however. It should also cover for repatriation costs (the cost of your travel home).

Compensation for certain special damages may also be claimed, where these special damages relate to expenses are incurred as a result of the accident. Often insurers will require your solicitor to attempt recovery of such expenses from the Defendant. Your solicitor will be able to advise you further if this condition applies.

Group claims for accidents and illness abroad

Outbreaks of hotel restaurant food poisoning will frequently result in several members of the same family or group of friends becoming ill.

 A "group action claim" (also called a multi-party claim) describes when holidaymakers who have been harmed by the same act of negligence  join forces.

Making a group claim will often improve the chance that compensation is paid out, as tour operators will find in more difficult to challenge the evidence of multiple Claimants.

Group compensation claims are particularly effective in the case of food poisoning. In the case of a single Claimant acting alone, the holiday company may argue that there is no evidence that the hotel was the source of the food poisoning.

Whether people affected by the same outbreak are know each other beforehand or not, exchanging names and contact information before returning home is strongly recommended.

Injury solicitors will also handle claims on behalf of groups of passengers injured in a transport accident or as the result of environmental contamination including excessive chlorine added to a hotel swimming pool.

Claims following a holiday in the UK

If you have booked a package holiday in the UK, any injury or illness you sustain is likely to be covered by specific Package Tour Regulations. The regulations entitle you to make a claim against the tour company that arranged your holiday instead of against the hotel, airline, coach or travel company that caused your accident.

Independent travellers (who did not book through a tour company) who have been injured on holiday in the UK are protected by general consumer law. The process of making an occupier's liability claim against a hotel in England and Wales is broadly similar to that of a claim against a shop or restaurant.

Holiday injury claims in Scotland

Scotland has a different basis of law to that of England and Wales, however many of the legal principles are similar. Injury claims in Scotland will generally be pursued through the local Sheriff Court or the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which has Scotland-wide jurisdiction.

In some cases, you may have a choice between making a claim through English or Scottish courts. The amount of compensation awarded may vary considerably between the two jurisdictions. The Package Tour Regulations also apply in Scotland.

Guaranteed No Win No Fee holiday accident or illness compensation claim - Pay nothing if you lose

Typically a no win no fee arrangement (also known as a Conditional Fee Agreement or CFA) is put in place between the claimant and a suitably qualified lawyer.

A Conditional Fee Agreement is the terms and conditions under which the solicitor is instructed by the claimant.

The CFA documents what the lawyers will actually do and how they is rewarded if the compensation claim is successful.

If you choose Quittance Personal Injury for your holiday accident or illness claim there are absolutely no extra costs , nothing to pay up-front and the peace of mind that you wont be financially out of pocket.

How to make a holiday injury or illness compensation claim

If you have more questions

If you would like more information about the claims process following an accident abroad, before picking up the phone to speak to a solicitor, visit Quittance's FAQs and Help and Advice pages.

How much compensation could you receive?

For a more detailed assessment of your holiday injury claim, calculate how much more of your compensation you could keep with Quittance using the personal injury claims calculator.

Do not run out of time

Claiming compensation for an accident or illness abroad can be more complicated than pursuing a claim following an accident in the UK. Shorter time limits can mean that Claimants miss their chance to recover compensation, and the legal process can be drawn out. Find out how long you may have left to make a claim with the injury claim time limit calculator.

Start your claim

For a no-obligation discussion with a specialist solicitor, call Quittance on 0800 612 7456 (or +44 800 612 7456 from outside the UK). Alternatively, you can arrange a callback for a time that is more convenient for you.

Useful addresses

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)

The FCO can provide contact information of the nearest British embassy or consulate, and may be able to facilitate contact with local police and emergency services. The FCO will also assist with arranging emergency travel documents for return the UK (repatriation) if necessary.

King Charles Street 
London
SW1A 2AH

Tel: 020 7008 1500

Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA)

ABTA members abide by a Code of Conduct that prescribes how customer complaints should be handled. The Association also provide support to holidaymakers who have booked through an ABTA member.

30 Park Street
London
SE1 9EQ

Tel: 020 3117 0599

Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO)

The AITO represents 122 independent tour operators. AITO operates an independent dispute settlement service (DSS) to facilitate the fast resolution of claims made against AITO members.

18 Bridle Lane
Twickenham
Middlesex
TW1 3EG

Tel: 020 8744 9280

Citizens Advice (formerly Citizens Advice Bureau)

Citizens Advice provide guidance to UK consumers, including holidaymakers.

Post Point 24
Town Hall
Walliscote Grove Road
Weston super Mare
North Somerset
BS23 1UJ

Tel: 03454 040506