Expatriate workers 'risking financial ruin': Britons injured in accidents abroad have found too late that their insurance was inadequate. Will Bennett reports

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of British citizens are working in the Middle East, usually earning high tax-free salaries, unaware that they may not be properly insured if they are seriously injured in an accident.

Some are finding out too late that either they cannot claim damages or that the compensation they receive is only a fraction of what they would get if they suffered similar injuries in Britain.

Lawyers believe that the law should be changed to force British companies with workers abroad to make full insurance provision for their employees and that those hired by foreign employers should be aware of the dangers.

The expanding economies of oil-rich countries in the Middle East have long attracted skilled people from Britain. Engineers, oil workers, salesmen, financial experts, nurses, teachers and builders have been in heavy demand.

Today there are about 30,000 Britons in Saudi Arabia, 17,000 in the United Arab Emirates, 6,500 in Kuwait and smaller groups elsewhere in the region. It is the biggest concentration of British workers outside Europe. If they have an accident at work most will be covered by insurance and, depending on the company's policy, should receive the same compensation as in Britain. Laws in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, also provide for benefits for work-related injuries.

But when accidents occur away from work or where there is a dispute as to whether or not the victim was on company business then families can find themselves in a legal no man's land.

If the victim is killed then the family will normally be able to claim on the life insurance policy. Where he or she is crippled then there is often no one who can be sued for damages.

The problem stems firstly from the fact that in most Middle Eastern countries there is no system of civil courts comparable to Britain, and secondly from the absence of compulsory vehicle insurance. Most very serious injuries result from road accidents.

In Britain, damages are recovered through a fault-based system. The victim sues whoever is blamed for the accident and, if negligence is proved, receives damages from the latter's insurance company. Motor insurance is compulsory and where a driver is illegally uninsured a victim can still get damages from the Motor Insurers' Bureau to which all insurance companies belong.

Increasingly settlements in Britain are structured. Usually the plaintiff gets a lump sum and the rest of the award is invested to provide income for a lifetime.

None of this applies in the Middle East. Yet both the victims featured on this page were responsible, careful men who were certain that they were insured for every eventuality.

Yet if either had had a full personal accident policy then they could have made a substantial claim. One leading insurance broker said last week that, depending on circumstances, cover could be arranged for about pounds 20 a week.

The law could be changed to help those working for British companies. Douglas Stewart, a solicitor specialising in personal injury cases, said: 'It would be a simple clause in the employers' liability statutes which would say that an employer who causes their employee to work abroad should make sure that they have adequate coverage.'

John Melville Williams QC, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: 'I am sure that the law could be changed and I think that it should be.'

This would not help British citizens working for foreign companies. They should check what their insurance arrangements are and, if they are not adequate, take out their own policies.


Some recent examples of settlements in Britain are:

Rosie Johnson, 26, a talented violinist left brain damaged in a car crash, was awarded pounds 1.4m damages in July. With pounds 1m of this invested in a structured agreement, she could receive pounds 20m if she lives into her 70s.

Janice Wharton, 32, was also left brain damaged after a crash involving her boyfriend's car. In July she was awarded pounds 625,000 even though she knew that her boyfriend was drunk when she got into his car. After 30 years the structured settlement will have brought in almost pounds 5m.

Raymond Everett, 29, will receive pounds 14.8m if he lives to be 80. Last year he received a lump sum payment of pounds 450,000 and another pounds 800,000 to purchase annuities. Although brain damaged in a car crash, he can still walk, and dress and feed himself.

John Lambert, 42, an airline pilot, won more than pounds 1.5m damages two years ago. He broke his neck in a motorcycle accident and was left paralysed. He sued Devon County Council for failing to maintain the road.