More than 500 compensated over ‘horrendous’ Caribbean outbreak
Multi-Million Pound Settlement For Holidaymakers Hit By Holiday Illness
More than 500 British tourists have won a settlement of more than £2.5 million in total after their holidays were ruined by a major outbreak of illnesses including Shigella and Salmonella at a Dominican Republic hotel.
Travel law experts at leading national firm Irwin Mitchell have welcomed the settlement with two major UK tour operators, one of the largest ever for a holiday case, but said all travel firms had to learn lessons from the ‘comedy of errors’ at the Bahia Principe hotel to ensure an outbreak of this kind, which lasted several months, could never happen again.
In total more than 1,000 British tourists were struck down by serious illness and dozens of guests were taken to hospital in ambulances, with Irwin Mitchell at the time calling for tour operators to stop sending holidaymakers to the hotel as the problem escalated.
The law firm’s clients, including 12 couples whose honeymoons were ruined by sickness, were all guests at the four-star all-inclusive Caribbean resort between January and August 2007.
The group, who travelled with either Thomas Cook or its subsidiary My Travel, all fell ill while at the hotel in San Juan with a range of illnesses including Shigella, Giardia, Salmonella and E Coli. Many of them needed medical treatment, 29 were hospitalised – five after they got back to the UK – and more than 200 still suffer long-term effects two years after flying home.
The problems at the Bahia Principe Hotel – which has a history of illness among guests – began in early 2007 and continued throughout most of the year as more guests arrived from the UK, with the Dominican Republic Minister for Public Health, Bautista Rojas, confirming in August that year that tourists had become ill due to contaminated foodstuffs.
As the problems mounted and more UK travellers fell ill, one plane flying back from the Dominican Republic was quarantined at Gatwick while another landing at the same airport was boarded by doctors. Other Bahia Principe guests landing at Manchester needed treatment from doctors on the plane before they could disembark.
Furious guests included those whose weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries and birthday celebrations were ruined, with many tourists describing the hotel as being like a casualty ward, with fleets of ambulances ferrying poorly guests to hospital day after day.
Clive Garner, Head of Irwin Mitchell’s highly renowned International Travel Litigation Team, said: “This was an astonishing outbreak at a hotel which should have offered its guests a dream holiday in the Caribbean. It was a comedy of errors from start to finish but one which wasn’t funny for anyone caught up in it.
"The scene at the time was horrendous. Day after day, fleets of ambulances were ferrying people to hospital and yet still tour operators carried on flying people out there. There was a flagrant disregard for their customers’ health and safety and every single tour operator in the UK needs to look at what happened to make sure something like this can never happen again.
"It beggars belief to think that so many people can fall ill at one hotel without the issue being resolved and it’s a shocking example of how not to treat your customers."
Garner welcomed Thomas Cook’s decision to settle its cases and those for My Travel, which it acquired subsequent to the Bahia outbreak, but called on other tour operators whose customers were also affected to follow suit and allow customers to move on. In addition to the clients whose cases are resolved Irwin Mitchell is also acting for a further 419 clients who travelled to the Bahia Principe with the tour operator First Choice.
Garner said: "Our clients suffered quite enough when they were caught up in all of this on their holiday in 2007, although many are still suffering the after effects even now and may well do for the rest of their lives.
"This settlement will at least go some way to helping them put it behind them but it’s hugely disappointing that First Choice are continuing to drag their heels with the settlement of claims by their customers. Those people also deserve to receive fair compensation for their illnesses and for the shocking service they received two years ago."
The problems at the Bahia Principe in 2007 followed a series of outbreaks at the hotel in previous years. Irwin Mitchell acted for more than 100 guests who fell ill there in 1997 and has also dealt with clients who stayed at the hotel in 2004, 2005 and 2006, as well as for guests who fell ill in 2008.