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Travel Law Team Success in Thailand Accident Case

On 1 December 2008, the Claimant, Mrs B was seriously injured in a road traffic accident in Thailand.

She had a flight booked with the Defendant airline for return to the UK from Bangkok which was due to depart on 26 November 2008. However, due to civil unrest, Bangkok airport was closed. Arrangements were made by the Defendant airline for Mrs B (and many other passengers) for a minibus to transport her to Phuket, from where she would catch an alternative flight.

The minibus journey took place at night and, if completed would have taken around 12 hours. Around 6 hours into the journey, the minibus crashed. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Three passengers were killed.

Mrs B sustained multiple fractures to her pelvis and three fractured ribs in addition to multiple lacerations and bruises. Further, she suffered a brain injury resulting in mild to moderate memory problems, fatigue, poor concentration and anxiety. Mrs B instructed Lanyon Bowdler to pursue a claim for damages for personal injury.

Mrs B relied upon the airline General Conditions of Carriage for Passengers and Baggage which included a ‘re-routing obligation’ in the event of flight cancellations. It was alleged that the accident was a consequence of the breach of an implied term of her contract with the Defendant airline to transport her with reasonable skill and care. She also argued that the Defendant had been negligent in making the minibus arrangements in that they had not properly investigated the competence of the minibus company/driver.

Liability was strenuously denied by the airline. The Defendant argued that in the arrangement of the transportation by minibus, they were acting only as agent of the passengers. They relied upon a letter that was signed by all passengers acknowledging that the airline acted “as assistant to help making van reservation upon passenger request”. It was denied that the Defendant had any obligation to the Claimant in respect of the minibus journey

There were also complexities in respect of the applicable law. Although the airline was based in Hong Kong, Mrs B was able to sue in the English courts as the airline also had a registered company in England. English law governed the contract claim. However, the Defendant contended that in respect of any claim for negligence, Thai law applied and that any such claim would be time barred as there is a one year limitation period applicable under Thai law (Mrs B did not instruct Lanyon Bowdler until November 2010). It was necessary to obtain expert evidence from a Thai lawyer on this point.

On 28th November 2012, I travelled to London where I met with Mrs B and our barrister, Mr Bernard Doherty, who is a specialist in accidents abroad and the author of the leading text book in this area. Together, we met with the Defendant’s legal team and were able to negotiate a settlement of £100,000 plus legal costs. The claim was settled without an admission of liability from the Defendant airline. There was a risk to Mrs B that if the claim proceeded to trial, she could lose and receive no damages at all. She was delighted with the settlement figure which would allow her to put in place some support to help her to cope with her ongoing symptoms.

This was a complicated case from the outset. It involved a number of potential causes of action and complex legal argument as well as obtaining medical reports in 5 different specialisms. The case was conducted by Neil Lorimer and myself as part of the Travel Law team. We were able to utilise our specialist skills required for litigation where there is a foreign element and also to call upon and develop our worldwide contacts to assist with expert advice and evidence.