Wreak revenge for holiday hell

Know your rights if you get hurt abroad, write Warren Collins and Michael Imperato

You don't have to take part in hazardous sports to find yourself in hospital abroad. If you do have to claim, examine the small print on your travel insurance (see box). Many people don't realise they may also have a case against the tour operator itself.

Under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 the tour operator may be liable for the acts of its sub-contractors, such as the hotel or a local day-trip organiser.

One case we dealt with at Russell, Jones & Walker involved a British tourist, Allison Seidlar, who was caught in a horrific accident in 1994. She had booked an expensive tour of Egypt, Jordon and Israel with Jules Verne Travel. While she was travelling in Egypt there was a torrential rainstorm and severe flooding on the roads. Despite warnings from the passengers, the coach driver and tour guide decided to press on with a journey through an affected area.

Not surprisingly, the coach broke down in the middle of torrential flood water, and the passengers had to try to escape through broken windows. Many were injured and one passenger drowned.

With the support of her union, we took Ms Seidlar's case against Jules Verne to court. Liability was denied throughout. Many of the other claimants had given up hope for compensation but, armed with evidence from doctors and a professor of Middle Eastern geography, she won a settlement based on the full value of the claim (running into thousands of pounds) days before a trial was due to take place.

Such claims are not always so simple. If a package holiday company is not liable, you may have to sue in the country where the incident took place. In England and Wales we have a three-year time limit for issuing proceedings in a personal injury action. Not all countries allow you this long to bring your case.

A solicitor's costs may be covered under your insurance and you should have the right to instruct a solicitor of your choice.

Finally, if you have a personal injury while you are abroad, don't put off dealing with it until you come home. Make sure you do the following:

n report what happened to the local police;

n keep receipts for all medical treatment and prescriptions;

n if you bring a case when you come home, ensure that you have obtained as much evidence as you can while abroad, such as a video or photographs of the scene, witness details, measurements of whatever it is you may have tripped over, for instance;

n check if there is a time limit by which you can claim under your own insurance;

n if you have to go to hospital, ask for a report on your injuries and treatment to bring home to your own doctor.

n Warren Collins and Michael Imperato are solicitors at Russell Jones & Walker, a firm which specialises in personal injury claims.

CHECK THE SMALL PRINT BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

Benefit for death or injury

Nearly all policies will offer a fixed sum, often pounds 325,000, for death, loss of sight, a limb or permanent disability. "Permanent disability" is usually harshly applied. Often you must be so badly injured that you are not capable of any paid work, not just the job you usually do.

Medical expenses

This is fairly obvious. Make sure it includes a flight home by air ambulance. Many policies will also pay a hospital benefit of pounds 300 or more for every day you are in hospital. This usually means overnight stays.

Help lines

Some travel policies have 24-hour help lines. You should look out for these deals as they can be crucial to get you swift confirmation you can go ahead with medical treatment.

Exclusions for ill-health and dangerous sports

Most policies will have exclusions for people already receiving treatment or who have had some treatment in the past six months. This does not mean that you will not get cover; you may simply have to pay a bit extra. Double check what your policy defines as "a dangerous sport". On some policies it includes "organised football".

Excesses

You may have to pay the first part of a claim yourself - typically pounds 330. If your claim covers several sections of cover you may have to pay a separate excess for each.

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