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Fake Holiday Sickness Claims in Court - Miles Hepworth, FOIL & DWF

27/06/18. After several summers of facing gastric illness claims in the courts, this summer is set to be an altogether quieter one for insurance lawyers defending gastric illness claims.

ABTA's Stop Sickness Scams campaign together with the robust approach taken by some of the larger tour operators, the focus of the Ministry of Justice alongside the wider industry interest has been remarkably successful in a relatively short space of time in discouraging holidaymakers from making fraudulent claims.

We are also seeing the initial influence of the fixed costs reform, announced in April 2018, effectively disrupting the business models of the claims management companies behind these claims.

Two judgments over the last month have underlined the continued willingness on the part of the Courts to take a hard line. Jadeep Singh, who claimed the food and drink at a Mexico resort caused a three-week illness nightmare, was ordered to pay travel firm TUI £10,000 after selfies emerged of him enjoying himself free of illness. Similarly, Liam Royle secured £6,000 in compensation after claiming he fell ill in Cyprus, but was subsequently undone by video footage of him dancing ‘Gangnam Style’. He was ordered to repay the same amount in costs to package holiday firm Jet2holidays. The lure of social media postings continues to be the downfall of many claimants.

But even if the Courts are adopting a zero-tolerance approach, these judgments illustrate the extent of the underlying problem. I expect we will yet see further similar judgments emerging from other litigated claims.

There is still much to be done in challenging the claims management companies behind claims farming, not only in respect of gastric illness but in motor and casualty insurance claims. Too often these claims are not run for the benefit of the individual claimant, but for the financial interests of those claims management companies and other enablers. I look forward to seeing more decisions where claims management companies, the medico-legal professionals who offer an expert opinion based on little actual objective evidence, the lawyers paying referral fees and others involved start to feel the sting of successful defences.

Moreover, there appears to be a reluctance on the part of the claimant's legal representatives and the Courts to require those claims management companies to identify themselves. At a time when claims farming is rife it is difficult to understand why those driving such opportunistic claims should be allowed to hide in the shadows. There is no reason why their identity and involvement should not be clear from the outset.

Looking ahead, a future risk may face smaller tour operators. They could suddenly find themselves facing gastric illness claims though the advent of the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. It is essential they know what to expect and how to deal with these claims when they arise.

Miles Hepworth, member of the Joint Fraud Sector Focus Team at the Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL), and a Fraud Partner at DWF

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