Holidays: What Happens When Things Go Wrong?


You’re all packed and ready to go, you’ve actually remembered the passport and the tickets, and everyone’s looking forward to a great holiday. The one thing you don’t want to think about is what happens when things go wrong, whether it’s an unforeseen injury or an illness.

First things first – as soon as you’ve booked your holiday, get some travel insurance. The cost of repatriation in the event of an illness or injury, as well as treatment abroad, can run into thousands of pounds. For the sake of a few quid, travel insurance protects your finances and makes sure you’re not left penniless and unwell thousands of miles from home.

If you’re planning to take part in any extreme sports while you’re on holiday (such as skiing), then bear in mind that you will need specialist insurance to cover the heightened risk of injury. You may also find that making an injury claim could be harder if you’re throwing yourself down a mountain on skis, paragliding, or deep sea diving.

Who’s to blame?

From a nasty tumble on a wet patio, a spinal injury caused by diving into an unexpectedly shallow swimming pool, or a head or spinal injury caused as a result of a skiing accident, it is possible for personal injury claims for holiday accidents to be brought against various parties. That could be the hotel itself, a supplier (if you were injured on an excursion, for example), or more likely your tour operator if you’re hurt or become ill during a package holiday. Compensation claims can be made for:

  • Injuries sustained in your accommodation or hotel
  • Injuries during excursions arranged by or booked through the tour operator
  • Injury or illness that can be directly related to a service that is part of a package deal.

Compensation claims for package holidays

If you’re hurt or ill during a package holiday, it’s important to establish if the incident that caused your misfortune in the first place is covered by the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992. This defines a package holiday as any holiday that lasts for over 24 hours and includes overnight accommodation, is paid for under a single invoice to a single company, and includes at least two of both transport, accommodation, and other services such as sightseeing or activity events.

If your holiday falls within these parameters, then the tour operator can be held directly responsible for accidents or illness that are the result of the negligence of another party. And it doesn’t just apply to overseas trips, either, but to package holidays here in the UK as well.

Remember, though, for the regulations to apply the negligent act must be directly linked to your accommodation, travel arrangements, or activities. So if you’re hurt during a bus ride to an attraction, or suffer a serious injury from a fall at your hotel which was not your fault, you may be entitled to make a holiday injury compensation claim.

 Travel claims that are not part of a package

Claims that are not part of a package may still be pursued and can be brought in the English courts even if the accident happened abroad. Such claims need specialist advice from a solicitor with expertise in claims with a foreign element able to advise upon jurisdiction and the applicable law. Different laws and time limits apply for bringing a claim in these circumstances and so a timely call to a solicitor with this expertise is recommended. 

Cruise ships

The regulations are slightly different if your holiday accident or illness happens on board a cruise ship, including during embarkation or when disembarking. In certain circumstances, you will be covered by a different set of regulations, namely the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea 1974. The time limit for making a compensation claim for any illness or injury on a cruise is two years from disembarkation, so you’ll need to talk to a solicitor as soon as you can.

When can’t you claim?

To make any injury claim, you need to show that a third party was negligent or in breach of a statutory duty in some way. For example, a failure to maintain a path to a swimming pool or to check a harness properly prior to a bungee jump. If the local standards are disregarded then a claim in negligence may be possible. However, if your accident was as a result of you disregarding warnings or safety notices, then your claim may be rejected.

What should you do?

If you do have an accident abroad, then the same principles apply as with any other accident claim.

Get evidence – you’re bound to have a camera or phone on you when you’re on holiday, so use it to take pictures of everything, from the scene of the accident through to pictures of the injuries sustained. Make sure you get medical reports if you receive treatment, and take names so that you know who treated you, and when.

Tell your rep – if you’re on a package holiday, tell your rep straight away if you suffer an injury or illness. When you get back, ensure you get in touch straight away with the tour operator and notify them of the situation.

Talk to a professional – compensation claims for holiday accidents can be complicated by the distances involved, and sometimes language barriers can be a stumbling block too. So talk to a solicitor who has experience in representing clients making holiday compensation claims, and who can work with you to get you the compensation you deserve.


For further assistance, contact our serious injury specialists Gerard Sanders and Isabel Bathurst at Hart Brown.


This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


Isabel Bathurst

Associate, Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence

Isabel joined Hart Brown as an Associate in June 2017 after spending five years as Partner at Pierre Thomas and Partners, working on high value...

Isabel Bathurst-Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence

Associate, Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence

Isabel Bathurst

Isabel joined Hart Brown as an Associate in June 2017 after spending five years as Partner at Pierre Thomas and Partners, working on high value cases with a foreign element including the leading case under Rome II of Syred v PZU and HDI which went to trial in 2015. This claim involved 2 passengers in a vehicle involved in an accident in Poland. However, the claimants lived in England and were able to bring their claim in the English courts but the court applied Polish law to the valuation of the damages awarded to each claimant.

Isabel has experience of both clinical negligence and personal injury claims, particularly catastrophic injury claims involving brain and spinal injuries, and as well as having a Diploma in Advanced Litigation, she is also an APIL Senior Litigator.

Most memorable case?
Syred v PZU and HDI (2015)

First album purchase?
Michael Jackson - Bad

Favourite film?
James Bond films

Favourite travel destination?

What would you have done if you had not become a lawyer?
I always wanted to be a nurse