Holidaying Brits who are injured or fall sick in Spain are missing out on potentially millions of pounds of compensation due to a legal quirk, it was warned yesterday.
Legal experts said British non-package holiday-makers are falling foul of the country’s strict one-year time limit for personal injury compensation claims.
It can be really difficult to have to tell someone they have missed their chance to claim by only a few weeks or months, especially if they are still recoveringLawyer
Spain and its islands, the Balearics and Canaries, are the most popular holiday destinations for Brits with more than 12 million visiting there in 2014.
Nearly 700 Brits need received hospital treatment for injury or sickness that year, according to Foreign Office figures.
But Brit holiday-makers who book their hotels and flights directly only have one year to claim for compensation if they find themselves injured or fall sick. This limit sits in stark contrast to other parts of Europe, such as France, where some claims can be filed up to 10 years after an accident.
Lawyer Neil Wilson, from Quittance Personal Injury, said: “We have seen more enquiries from injured holidaymakers who have run out of time.
“It can be really difficult to have to tell someone they have missed their chance to claim by only a few weeks or months, especially if they are still recovering.
“In reality, an injured person should contact a lawyer to start their claim some months before the year has elapsed, and ideally as soon as possible.
“The time limit applies to the date at which the claim was filed with a Spanish Court.”
People have three years to file a claim in the UK when injured due to the negligence or recklessness of others.
The same three year limit applies to anyone injured on a package holiday that was booked with a UK-based tour operator.
Package holidays are covered by The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992.
The law protects British holidaymakers by ensuring holiday companies displaying a “lack of reasonable care and skill” can be held accountable, even if it was the hotel staff that caused the accident or illness.
But this doesn’t apply to people booking accommodation through increasingly popular direct booking sites.
For example, if they have booked their flights and hotel separately, they are subject to the local law.
Non-package holidaymakers in Spain, in particular, are falling into the trap of assuming they have the same amount of time to embark on a claim in Spain as they would in the UK.
In fact, injured Brits in Spain have only one year to file a claim from the date of an accident or the date they are discharged from hospital.
Victims of crime in Spain have one year to make a claim from the date the end of the investigation and archiving of the case file.
Lawyers say the Spanish laws are “out of phase” with most European countries.
Time limits vary widely between EU member states, with many countries allowing injured people more than three years to make a claim.
Outside Europe, time limits range from two to 30 years - the only exception being China, which shares the same one year time limit as Spain.
In some countries, time limits can vary depending on the specific circumstances of an accident.
Nolan Mortimer is a solicitor with Simpson Millar LLP and has 15 years’ experience working on compensation claims for people injured abroad.
He said: “Before you go if possible, book a package holiday - you get more rights and support when something goes wrong.
“Also, ensure you have insurance. I would recommend an annual policy so you are covered for issues that may prevent you from going on holiday as well as while you are away.
“While away if something goes wrong, ensure you tell the rep, or call the holiday emergency line if you cannot sort it out locally with the hotel or local service provider.
“Log the complaint and get written confirmation if you can. Takes names and contact details of any others affected and photos of anything relevant.
“When you get back follow up in writing or by e-mail. If it is a serious matter, don’t be afraid to seek advice from Holiday Travel Watch, a free consumer champion, or from a solicitor.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “Wherever you’re going, it’s important to prepare before you go. Stay healthy and safe abroad by taking some simple precautions.
“Plan your trip using our foreign travel checklist, learn about the laws, customs and entry requirements of the country you’re visiting using our foreign travel advice and make sure you have the right travel insurance (and your free European Health Insurance Card if you’re travelling in Europe).”