Those who fall victim to negligence while holidaying abroad can face tricky legal hurdles in winning compensation for their injuries. However, as a case concerning a woman left paralysed by a swimming pool accident in Mallorca showed, specialist lawyers are more than capable of rising to the challenge.
The woman was one of a party of 22 who had travelled to the island to celebrate a forthcoming marriage. She had been there for only two days when disaster struck in the wave pool of the hotel where she was staying. She was floating on an inflatable doughnut when she was upended in the shallow end, falling awkwardly and suffering spinal injuries which left her tetraplegic. Her claim was valued at about £9 million.
After proceedings were lodged on her behalf in England against the Spanish owner of the hotel and its Spanish insurers, the insurers accepted that her case against them should be heard in England. The level of insurance cover was, however, far below the value of her claim and was possibly as low as 300,000 euros. For its part, the hotel's owner argued that the English courts had no jurisdiction to hear the woman's claim against it and that the matter should be tried in Spain.
In ruling on that issue, the High Court noted that the default position under European law was that the hotel's owner, as a Spanish company, was entitled to be sued in Spain. However, given the woman's disabilities, it would be very disadvantageous and burdensome to require her to fight her case overseas.
As an English consumer of the hotel's services, which were advertised and marketed to English holidaymakers, it would offend against common sense were she unable to sue the hotel's owner in England. Were the latter's arguments to prevail, there was a danger of parallel proceedings in Spain and England reaching conflicting results. The claim against the hotel's owner was also anchored to England by the extant claim against its insurers, who had submitted to English jurisdiction.
The Court's decision means that, although the woman's claim will be tried under Spanish law, the case will be heard in England by an English judge.