A shaky Farce Majeure

I got confronted with two news items today, the weirdest part is that the source is the Daily Mail (at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4717082/Chaos-British-holidaymakers-killer-earthquake.html), which is upsetting to some degree. The news started with the earthquake on Kos last week, a shaking that extended all the way to Crete. Now, as the building laws are on Crete, the news of the earthquake was not one that shook me, the people there know it, yet the strength was stronger than usually dealt with. OK, so far no biggie as news goes. Yet, the initially not highly regarded headline became ‘Thomson REFUSES to refund terrified holidaymaker and his family as they try to cancel their trip to Kos amid earthquake chaos‘, which woke me up. This is not the first time that travel agencies are frowned upon, so I decided to take another look. Justin Curtis who wrote this is pounding on a few items that are actually bigger news than most realise.

Now apart from the news you are about to see, there is a few matters that we need to consider, and I will get to them shortly. First we see “Brits due to go to region say they are being told they cannot have a refund“, I’ll tell you another one, they are still offering these trips online, so I could fly out Saturday at £3275 for a fortnight, by the way a comparable trip with a 5 star hotel booked in the Netherlands is €1048 (£937), which is a totally absurd difference (it included the flight, so ordering the trip in the Netherlands, or book it online and take an additional Euro trip train could save you £2300 (minus the two train tickets), so in light of the prices Thomson is pretty ridiculous. In addition, Thomson proclaims to be an ABTA member (shown on their website), With ABTA we see “Clients’ Options on Cancellation 3B) If they are Principals who cancel previously confirmed Travel Arrangements, inform Agents and direct Clients without delay and offer Clients the choice of: i) alternative Travel Arrangements if available; or ii) a full refund of all monies paid. Such refunds shall be sent to Agents and direct Clients without delay.

Now, this is only one part, in addition we see:

3D) Not make a significant alteration to Travel Arrangements less than 14 days before the departure date of the Travel Arrangements unless it is necessary to do so as a result of Force Majeure.

I think that we can agree that an Earthquake is as Force Majeure as it gets.

There are rules of compensation for part, in case it was not a Force Majeure. So in light of what I see, Thomson might be in a lot more trouble than they think they are.

It was merely a first part, the fact that Thomson kept the lines open for flights this coming Saturday indicates just how insensitive they are to their clients. If the Daily Mail is to be believed, we should also consider their website. When we see: “We’re part of TUI Group – one of the world’s leading travel companies. And all of our holidays are designed to help you Discover Your Smile.” You have to wonder how they will address the issues as given with “Some laid down on the grass after they were denied entry to the airport, with staff limiting the number of people allowed inside due to its small size“, which for safety reasons makes perfect sense, in addition we see “I said I wanted my money back but they told me no and that it was safe. But Kos is not going to be rebuilt in a week and I asked if they could guarantee me the buildings there and my hotel were structurally sound and they couldn’t“, from a torts point of view, Thomson now might have an expensive legal issue evolving at their front door, one that they cannot defer under ABTA, This case could get us to Donoghue v Stevenson. Ms Donoghue claimed compensation for illness, after she consumed a ginger beer containing a decomposed snail, in a public house in Paisley, Scotland. This is the first case of Torts, as Thomson is now quoted to have stated that Kos is Safe, if any mishap comes from the trip, the family could sue as there is news and evidence on the dangers. Kathmiri, the Greek news source gives that dozens of buildings are at present unsafe with dozens more not yet investigated, so Thomson was THIS negligent? The question becomes why Thomson has become this negligent whilst the ABTA code of conduct is pretty clear in section 3 on those who have booked, yet not yet travelled. They could have faced praise and clientele as they bended over backwards by offering and working towards alternative solutions for scores of travellers, now they could get into a lot of hot water. The diverted Ferry service is only a small issue, the reason why it was diverted is the real danger as some quays are actually ripped from the road, making for unsafe conditions. This issue goes beyond the Tsunami that came, yet in all this the complications from electricity, sewage and heat will go up and could potentially create additional hazards for some time, we cannot state how long or how realistic these dangers would be, but they will be there. If essential parts are fixed within a month it would be a small miracle, a given that no one should bank on. For Kos, this could not have happened at a worst time, the summer is the height of their annual tourism income flow. July-September is essential to the people on Kos and Crete; as such Kos might get a big blow in a time when the Greek economy could afford it the least. So back to Torts, we have basically shown a Duty of Care and now we get to Breach of Duty, so as we get to the ‘reasonable man‘ test, would a reasonable man send another person into an earthquake stricken place for a family holiday (or any holiday?), if we consider a reasonable safe environment (especially) for children, Thomson could be seen as the reckless endangering element to the health of these children on that vacation. As such, they might state, the people could have decided not to go. In this a step towards criminal law is that the vacation is a product (or service), so as we see product liability we get “Anyone who is harmed by an unsafe product could sue. They can begin their court case up to three years from the date of the injury. In some cases, they can even sue up to ten years after the product was sold“, it is a thin line, yet with these bulk vacations, the minimum amount of people for a class action should be easily reached, especially when there are torts exploiters (they do exist). Consider that the vacation is a product that is offered, in such we could go towards the ‘Guide to the Consumer Protection Act 1987‘, where we see “In the past those injured had to prove a manufacturer negligent before they could successfully sue for damages. The Consumer Protection Act 1987 removes the need to prove negligence. A customer can already sue a supplier, without proof of negligence, under the sale of goods law. The Act provides the same rights to anyone injured by a defective product, whether or not the product was sold to them“, in addition, there is “Liability under the Act extends to components and raw materials. If a finished product contains a defect in a particular component, both the manufacturer of the finished product and the component manufacturer may be liable“, which is interesting, so any item on the package sold to the tourist might be up for instigating the damage compensation track, so not merely the hotel, any excursion sold to the tourist could start liability at this stage. So how defective is this product?

Well the act gives us “A defective product is defined as one where the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect” and according to the Daily Mail, the people at Thomson proclaimed that Kos was safe, so in light of damaged quays, collapsed buildings with rubble all over the street, when the light goes a little low, spraining an ankle would be the easiest part in the entire equation and the elements to sue have been met, after which the liability track could commence. All because Thomson stated according to the Daily Mail source: “Gary Taylor, left, is due to fly to Kos with wife Katy and daughter Summer, pictured, next week but said he wanted to cancel due to safety fears, only to be told by Thomson he ‘could not have the £2,800 cost refunded due to terms and conditions’ of the deal“, yet this is opposed by ABTA code of conduct section 3b and 3d. And ABTA went one step further by giving within the definition of a Force Majeure as “circumstances where performance and/or prompt performance of the contract is prevented by reasons of unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the control of the Principal, the consequences of which could not have been avoided even if all due care had been exercised“. Such circumstances include a natural disaster, so when were earthquakes and Tsunamis not natural disasters? If the Daily Mail is correct, this Force Majeure is making Thomson look like a Farce Majeure, the one place where booking a holiday might not be the best idea, not just for the prices stated.

Yet in the sidelines we also read “Thomson is offering alternative holidays for those due to travel to Kos or Bodrum should they no longer wish to“, which is one offer that ABTA clearly allows for, yet when we see at the Code of Conduct at 3B.ii “a full refund of all monies paid. Such refunds shall be sent to Agents and direct Clients without delay“, the issue of asking a few more questions to the top of Thomson seems a warranted issue to pursue.

The final part that rocked me is that there is at present no ombudsman for travels, something I actually never considered not existing, when we see that a trip per person could be in advance of £2500 and there are 8,000 UK travellers stranded on Kos, is it not weird that one event, representing £20m is not properly protected? Not merely for the traveller, to some extent to protect the travel agency as well? Is such a voluntary code legally enforceable? Well, that is actually the issue, I am not certain in the UK law settings, in Australia, the case in the Victorian Supreme Court named National Australia Bank Ltd v Rose [2016] VSCA 169 gives us “The Voluntary Banking Code in question stated that NAB had to give Mr Rose “prominent notice of various matters” before taking a guarantee from him. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren and Justice Stephen McLeish of the Victorian Court of Appeal dismissed NAB’s appeal of the original case: “We would respectfully agree with the trial judge’s conclusion that those clauses of the Banking Code had contractual force as terms of the guarantee at issue.”“, I reckon that the UK might find against Thomson travel agency if it gets sued, there is a decent chance that the judges will see the voluntary code of conduct, which seems to be used at times as a marketing presentation on the travellers rights as a mandatory setting regarding the terms of guarantee, or as a Terms of Service, in equal measure, in light of what I have found so far Thomson made a few blunders, several on the same day as their terms of service are seen. I also reckon that Thomson might be the only one visible now, but this issue could hit any agency that has some mention of ABTA in their sales prospectus or website and not offer a decent alternative or a full refund.

 

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