For most people, a trip abroad is usually planned with enjoyment in mind – a holiday of a lifetime, a stag or hen party or a break with family or friends to soak up the sunshine or see the sights.
But a look at the latest figures available show that in the year from April 2013 to March 2014 there were 3,157 British nationals hospitalised while they were abroad. What is also clear from the figures is that, as tourists have begun to travel to more exotic destinations, the number of admissions in far-flung territories has also risen so that, proportionally, British nationals were most likely to be hospitalised in the Philippines which saw a 38% increase in cases from the previous year.
Having to undergo medical treatment abroad is often a frightening experience – there are frequently language barriers, the patient is often away from their loved ones, and there may also be concerns about the quality of the medical treatment being provided. This is particularly so if the patient does not understand what that treatment actually is and the outcome is not as it should have been.
If you have had medical treatment abroad that you think may have been negligent, it can be difficult to obtain compensation for any resulting injuries. One of the reasons for this is that the costs of taking a clinical negligence claim abroad are prohibitive. Legal systems in the majority of foreign countries do not allow lawyers to act on a no win, no fee agreement and so most lawyers will require clients to pay money on account of any fees that will be incurred before they take on a case. In many cases the client will not get that money back because the legal system their case is being pursued in is not a system where the loser pays the costs of the successful party. In addition, the level of compensation they will recover will often be relatively low. And that is before you even get to the stage of obtaining evidence to prove that the treatment has fallen below the required standard in the country where it was provided.
So how can you best protect yourself? Here are a couple of things that are worth bearing in mind.
Firstly, if you have to have medical treatment abroad, and you have no insurance that will meet the cost of that treatment, pay for it using a credit card attached to a credit card account in your name. Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, a credit card company is jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract by the retailer. Therefore, if the medical treatment was negligent so that a breach of contract can be established, the credit card company is just as responsible as the retailer for the service supplied, provided the cost of the services was more than £100 and not more than £30,000. Assuming your account was with a credit card company in your own country, you will have a potential claim that can be pursued in your own country rather than having to sue the negligent supplier abroad. Even just paying the deposit or part of the treatment cost using your card, provided it is more than £100, will mean that protection will follow.
Secondly, when you take out your travel or home insurance, check whether it includes legal expenses insurance and, if it does, check whether it would cover you for the cost of claims arising as a result of medical negligence in the country(ies) you are most likely to visit. That will at least provide some funding to enable you to instruct a solicitor to investigate the merits and the economics of your claim before you commit any of your own funds to it.
Thirdly, seek the advice of a solicitor who has experience of dealing with claims for medical negligence abroad to ensure that you are properly advised about the economics of the claim – you may have a very strong case but if it is going to cost you £20,000 to recover £5,000 then you will want to know that before you proceed.
Katherine Allen has practised in the field of Travel Litigation for over 17 years. She has been recognised as a leader in dealing with claims arising out of package holidays, road traffic accidents in foreign countries, accidents while working abroad and accidents occurring on aeroplanes, trains and ships. For more information, get in touch via our contact page.