‘Face Your Responsibilities’, Leading Lawyer Tells Operator
A leading travel lawyer has urged First Choice to ‘face up to its responsibilities’ and help over 400 British tourists who were left seriously ill after staying at one of its hotels – almost a year on from another tour operator agreeing a payout of almost £3.5m for the same outbreak.
The holidaymakers were left devastated after their dream trips to the four-star Bahia Principe resort in the Dominican Republic, including weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries and birthdays, were ruined by outbreaks of serious illnesses including Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter.
All 408 tourists travelled to the all-inclusive resort with tour operator First Choice between May and August 2007, at the height of an outbreak at the Caribbean site which saw fleets of ambulances ferrying guests to hospital, and they are taking legal action with travel law experts Irwin Mitchell.
But the UK holiday giant is still denying liability for the problems its customers faced at the Bahia Principe - two and half years after the outbreak and almost 12 months after Irwin Mitchell reached a settlement of close to £3.5m, one of the largest payouts of its kind, with rival tour firms Thomas Cook and subsidiary My Travel for 500 tourists who fell ill at the same hotel at the same time.
Lawyers from Irwin Mitchell have now lodged court proceedings on behalf of the 408 holidaymakers who travelled with First Choice but described the tour firm’s refusal to accept they were at fault as ‘utterly ludicrous’ and urged them to play fair by their customers.
Clive Garner, Head of Travel Law at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The huge catalogue of complaints our clients have encountered shows just how appalling the conditions were.
“That was why Thomas Cook and My Travel, to their credit, held up their hands quickly, admitted they were in the wrong, worked with us to agree the right level of compensation for each of our clients and allowed their customers to move on with their lives.
“It’s nothing short of ludicrous for First Choice to continue to deny it was at fault. Its customers were there at the same hotel at the same time suffering from the same illnesses. At the very least they deserve the same treatment as Thomas Cook afforded its customers.”
Guests claimed the hotel was dirty, unhygienic and that food did not appear to have been properly cooked and was left uncovered. Birds and mice were frequently seen in the dining area and several couples reported an incident where a sewage pipe spilt waste into the swimming pool, which was simply skimmed out by staff with nets.
Among those affected were Aonghus Morrison, 35, and his wife Karen, 29, from Darklands in Glasgow, who had planned their perfect honeymoon, spending two weeks relaxing in the Caribbean sun during August 2007, only to be struck down with a debilitating illness within days.
Karen said: “The state of the hotel was really awful – we were told we were booking a four-star resort, however the hotel room didn’t even look like it had been properly cleaned. The dining area was very off-putting as there were always birds flying around and landing on tables. The food on the buffet was left uncovered for long periods of time, exposing it to the insects that were constantly flying around and we often saw plates covered in flies.
After the honeymoon couple both fell ill, Aonghus went to visit the hotel doctor – only to find that there was a huge queue of people also waiting to be seen and who were complaining of the same symptoms.
“Aonghus had to wait for several hours before he was seen. Eventually he was given two different types of antibiotics and pain killers for his stomach and was told to drink Electrolytes. He had to bring my dose back to the hotel room for me as by that point I was too weak to move anywhere,” she added.
The problems at the Bahia Principe Hotel 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 at the hotel.
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.
In total, more than 1,000 British tourists were struck down by serious illness at the resort during 2007 with many tourists describing the hotel as being like a casualty ward, with fleets of ambulances ferrying poorly guests to hospital day after day. At the time, Irwin Mitchell urged tour operators to stop sending holidaymakers to the hotel as the problem escalated.
Clive Garner added: ““Despite similar problems having been reported at the hotel on and off previous ten years, First Choice continued to direct their customers to the resort throughout the 2007 epidemic. Meanwhile, when at the hotel, guests who became ill typically received little or no help from their holiday reps.
“It’s hugely disappointing that First Choice is failing to recognise its responsibility in this case. These people deserve to receive fair compensation for their illnesses and for the shocking service they received. Worse still, many of them continue to suffer illness to this day.”
The problems at the Bahia Principe in 2007 followed a series of outbreaks of illness at the hotel in previous years. Irwin Mitchell successfully negotiated substantial compensation packages for more than 100 guests who fell ill there in 1997 and the firm has also acted for clients who became ill during stays at the hotel in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.