Tour firm must pay over holiday bug

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The Independent Online

A judge today handed a landmark victory to 49 holidaymakers who contracted serious illnesses at a Majorcan hotel after ruling that one of the biggest tour operators in the UK failed to protect their health and safety, lawyers for the holidaymakers said.

The ruling followed a 10 day trial and is the first time an English court has held a tour operator liable for causing cryptosporidium infections in guests staying at a hotel, said solicitors Irwin Mitchell.

The decision by a judge at Birmingham County Court means holiday giant TUI UK is must pay compensation to those who fell ill while staying at the island's three-star Son Baulo Hotel in 2003, with some - including children - contracting the diseases salmonella and cryptosporidium, a spokeswoman said.

She added: "The tour operator, owner of major names such as Thomson and First Choice, had repeatedly denied it was responsible for the problems which affected the guests over a four-month summer period and have left many still suffering ongoing symptoms."

TUI accepted it was responsible for the salmonella cases on the eve of the group's trial in September but continued to deny liability for the cases of cryptosporidium, leading to the hearing, the spokeswoman added.

Judge Worster criticised TUI after hearing that the holiday firm was aware of the problems at the 251-room hotel in Ca'n Picafort but continued to send families there, only for those guests to fall ill as well, a decision he said that was "probably largely motivated by commercial considerations", the spokeswoman said.

Among illnesses suffered by the tourists were seven cases of salmonella, eight of cryptosporidium and three children who contracted both diseases.

Those who suffered from cryptosporidium alleged that they became ill after using the swimming pool, with some guests seeing faeces in it, while others complained about the way the pool and toilets at the hotel were maintained and cleaned and reported that food was undercooked and served cold.

Experts who gave evidence criticised the management of hygiene in the pool and said a proper plan for keeping the swimming area clean could have prevented the outbreak from taking place.

The judge said there was "absence of any effective poolside enforcement or monitoring (whether by a lifeguard or otherwise), an inadequate pool maintenance programme, an inadequate system for keeping the poolside and the poolside toilets clean, and a failure to abide by Thomson's or the hotel's own Guidance."

Among those affected was Carrie Dickens, from Peacehaven, East Sussex, who saw her 13-year-old son George taken seriously ill with gastric symptoms during their stay at the hotel in September 2003.

Two days after returning to the UK he went to Brighton Children's hospital where he was diagnosed with cryptosporidium and salmonella, admitted to hospital and needed two weeks off school while he recovered.

His 35-year-old mother said: "The conditions at the hotel were appalling. The toilets were filthy, the swimming pools had faeces floating in them and meat and egg dishes were undercooked."

Clive Garner, head of the travel law team at Irwin Mitchell, said: "Before the trial, TUI UK denied liability and they repeatedly refused to accept that either themselves or the hotel management were in any way to blame, despite the fact that so many guests at the hotel suffered illness during the summer of 2003.

"Our clients were therefore forced to take legal action to obtain fair compensation for their illnesses instead of being able to move on quickly with their lives as they wanted.

"While delighted with the judgment and their victory at trial, many of our clients question why TUI UK Limited did not agree to pay compensation years earlier, avoiding the need for legal action.

"TUI will now be required to pay substantial damages to compensate our clients for their illnesses, the financial losses that they have sustained, compensation for their ruined holidays, plus interest on all of these sums plus pay substantial legal costs.

"The total sums payable would have been significantly lower had TUI accepted our repeated requests for them to admit liability and negotiate settlement of our clients' cases with us. We hope that they have learned a valuable lesson."

A Thomson spokeswoman said: "Thomson can confirm that today the Birmingham County Court found in favour of a number of guests who fell ill whilst staying at the Hotel Son Baulo in Ca'n Picafort , Majorca, in 2003.

"We are very disappointed with the decision as we sincerely believe that we did everything in our power to safeguard our customers' wellbeing at the time.

"We have been criticised for not meeting a standard that is impossible to meet, as a consequence we are currently considering our options in respect of an appeal.

"If no appeal is made we will resolve the claims from our customers as quickly as possible."

She added: "We would like to reassure all customers that their health and safety is our primary concern when travelling with us. The company works with all its hotel partners, including the Hotel Son Baulo, to ensure that the very highest standards our customers have come to expect are maintained.

"With the exception of summer 2003, the Hotel Son Baulo has an exemplary health and safety record with extremely low levels of sickness. The hotel scores highly on our customer satisfaction surveys, and Thomson is confident that those set to stay at the resort will enjoy the excellent levels of service and quality that are synonymous with the company's holiday offering."