In 2006, Robert and Christianne Shepherd, aged six and seven from Horbury in West Yorkshire, accompanied their father and his partner on what should have been a fun-filled holiday during their half-term break, instead suffering what Coroner, David Hinchliff described as “a most appalling tragedy.”
Mr Magner, an engineer who examined the holiday bungalow, said the incorrectly-installed boiler “directly caused the deaths,” adding that he had “never seen levels of carbon monoxide that high coming from a boiler.” The boiler’s safety cut-off device had deliberately been short-circuited so that the boiler would not turn itself off. This resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning that fatally injured the children and left their father and his partner in comas.
When booking your summer getaway this year, you would expect that the accommodation in which you are staying will be safe for you and your family. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to check the safety of the foreign hotel or apartment where you will be staying at the point of booking your holiday. We all hope that the accommodation owners carry out the necessary safety checks and maintain sufficient safety standards to avoid this type of accident occurring. Unfortunately, as we have seen in this very sad story, this is not always the case.
What can be done at the stage of booking your holiday to ensure that safety checks have been carried out? When booking direct with a foreign accommodation owner then there are a couple of things you can do to avoid being injured in an accident abroad. The most obvious thing is to check on holiday review websites to try to gauge the experiences of other holidaymakers. Where holidaymakers spot potential issues then they are often reported on these sites. Unfortunately, in some cases, there is no warning of problems - which was likely the case here.
You could also ask for evidence of safety checks carried out from the accommodation owner such as gas and electrical safety certificates. However, from my own experience, owners of accommodation do not wish to go to the trouble of giving you this type of information and, if they do, it is usually in a foreign language and there is little way of knowing whether you have been provided with genuine documents without going to great expense.
In theory, you should have more guarantees when booking a package holiday through a tour operator as they are legally obliged to make their own reasonable safety checks when selecting accommodation providers. They will need to ensure that there is a valid hotel operating license where appropriate, and they will have to ensure that the safety requirements of the country where you are staying have been met. Even if safety standards do not require something to be done in that particular country, if you can show that a reasonable holidaymaker would not have booked the holiday - had they known of the problem at the point of booking - then the tour operator may still have some liability. As a result, tour operators are more likely to ensure that there are sufficient safety checks in place to avoid any proceedings being brought against them.
As we have seen here, there is no safeguard against any problems or injuries but we hope that such tragic events like those suffered by the Shepherd family will be a sufficient warning to accommodation providers that safety is paramount.
Slater and Gordon Personal Injury Lawyers are currently working on four related claims against tour operator, Thomas Cook, involving four clients who were injured as a result of a gas explosion in the Dominican Republic.
Paul McClorry is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor and Head of Travel Litigation at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
If you would like to make a holiday compensation claim, call us 24/7 for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9046 or on +44 20 7657 155 if you are calling from outside the UK. Alternatively contact us online and let us know when and where to call you.
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