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Jonathan Speight

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How frequently do natural disasters occur?

According the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) there were 317 reported natural disasters in 2014 in 94 countries, in which 8,186 people lost their lives. In all 107 million people were affected.

48% of these disasters occurred in Asia and accounted for 85% of those killed.

In the 10 year period between 2005 and 2014 there were more than 6,300 natural disasters - almost half of which were either floods or earthquakes.

Our network of solicitors do not currently have the capacity to take on holiday-related injury and sickness claims outside the UK. It is recommended that you contact a personal injury specialist solicitor to discuss your options as soon as possible, as some jurisdictions have limitation dates of less than the three year limit that is standard in the UK.

What can be done to avoid being affected by a natural disaster?

As there is very little that can be done to prevent natural disasters, minimising the risk is the best way to ensure personal safety.

Some areas are more at risk than others - The Alps and Himalayas for avalanches; Japan, Nepal and San Francisco for earthquakes; Sicily for volcanic eruptions and Asia for monsoon floods for example.

For a holidaymaker staying away from these destinations is the only way to guarantee not being injured in a natural disaster, should one occur. However, for many these attractive places are worth taking the risk and the severity of injuries may often be limited by safety measures such as earthquake alarms, flood warning systems and robust building structures.

What happens if you or people you know are caught up in a natural disaster?

Where many people have been killed or injured in a disaster, the early aftermath is likely to be chaotic and getting information about who has been injured, where they might be and what has happened may be very difficult.

Where an incident involves few UK citizens, UK media coverage may be lower than it is where the disaster occurred. News agencies such as Reuters may have more information, and this is easily accessible through the internet - as are other media sources, including social media. 

Although an emergency number is usually issued following a disaster, phone lines may be overloaded. Making contact with others who may be involved - family members, friends, companies such as airlines, tour operators and coach firms, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); and news organisations - and sharing information and responsibilities may help all to understand the situation.

At some stage after the disaster a legal process will commence. This will involve bereaved friends and relatives and survivors.

In addition to any inquests there may also be a public inquiry to establish the cause of the disaster and examine what, if anything, could be done to prevent it or minimise the casualties.

The Secretary of State will make the decision to hold the inquiry, and the legal process will be set up within 3 months of that decision.

Once the inquiry begins, lawyers representing the survivors and bereaved should be able to answer their questions and voice their concerns about any issue arising from the proceedings. There should be opportunities to meet them face-to-face.

The after effects of a natural disaster 

Anyone experiencing a natural disaster, whether caught up in the disaster itself or emotionally connected with someone involved, may find difficulty in coming to terms with what has happened.

Injuries, both physical and emotional, may affect lives for many years. Each person's experience and feelings is unique.

Reactions to disasters include loss of appetite and an inability to sleep. A person may find it difficult to concentrate or sustain anxiety attacks. He may keep re-living the disaster and experience vivid flashbacks - or find difficulty in relating to others who were not involved.

These are normal reactions and if they persist then it may be beneficial to seek help.

Making a compensation claim

Survivors with physical and/or psychological injuries and bereaved relatives or partners may have a claim for compensation against a defendant company who could be liable for the injuries and deaths. This would be applicable where it may be demonstrated that the injuries sustained in a natural disaster could have been prevented or limited had the appropriate safety measures (earthquake alarms, flood warning systems and robust building structures, for example) been in place.

Some travel insurance providers insure against natural disasters or "acts of God", and include cover for medical expenses incurred and the cost of delays and accommodation. However some, including Thomson, clearly state that they will not compensate for "events beyond our control".

Claiming compensation may be a long and difficult process. If there are a number of Claimants pursuing a claim against the Defendant, it might be appropriate to bring a group or class action. There are advantages in doing so - sharing the financial risks of litigation and resolving issues about the Defendant's responsibility together. Each Claimant's compensation is individually calculated, but all members of the group must wait until the action has been concluded to receive their compensation - and this may take longer than an individual action where any member does not agree to settle his case.

There are added complexities in dealing with overseas disasters, therefore it is important to obtain legal advice from solicitors familiar with dealing with legal representatives and authorities abroad.

Useful links and resources

Disaster Action
http://www.disasteraction.org.uk

British Red Cross 
http://www.redcross.org.uk
Telephone: 0844 871 11 11

Foreign & Commonwealth Office
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office
Telephone: 0207 270 1500

Reuters
http://uk.reuters.com/
News desk:  Telephone 0207 250 1122

Newspapers
http://www.world-newspapers.com