Miss Gracie Huby v Jet2 Holidays Ltd (2021)
Upon arrival at the hotel, the Huby family went straight to the pool bar for food. They had been travelling all day and arrived at the hotel at 4 in the afternoon – no doubt the family were starving.
Gracie opted for a hot dog whilst everyone else had other snack foods. She barely got through the hot dog before she ended up spitting out part of it into a napkin. Mr Huby recalled Gracie saying something on the lines of “it didn’t taste right”.
The following morning, whilst next to the swimming pool, Gracie complained about feeling sick and ran off to the apartment. Mrs Huby went with her and Gracie became violently ill, vomiting every 15-20 minutes. A doctor was called to the apartment who administered an antiemetic. The doctor was called again and before they knew it, the Huby family were on the way to hospital via an ambulance. Gracie’s twin sister became so concerned about the food and concern for her sister’s wellbeing that the family couldn’t bring themselves to eat food from the hotel.
Gracie was in hospital for several days. Even once she was out, the holiday was ruined before it started
Anyone who heard this story were quick to venture a guess “it must have been the hotdog?”. That’s what the Huby family thought. That is what I thought… but Jet2 disagreed.
Would you think it was the hotdog? What if I were to tell you that not only did the hygiene audits demonstrate poor hygiene practices, the hotel kept those hotdogs in a broken fridge at a temperature that far exceeded the recommended temperature?
I first spoke to Mr Huby in June 2018 which was a few months after their holiday. He is as incredibly frustrated with how Jet2 dealt with their complaint. Their response was similar to other clients (in so far that they suggested that the illness was caused by something else) and said the following:-
Thank you for the documents you have provided; I have reviewed them, I must advise that this is not medical confirmation that Gracie’s illness was directly linked to the hotel and outlines that she suffered an intolerance and dehydration. Whilst I whole heartedly sympathize that Gracie was required to stay in the hospital for 4 days and the inevitable disruption this caused to your family holiday, I do hope you can appreciate that food intolerance and dehydration is something that is out of the control of the Hotel Management. Furthermore, the Hotel Management have also provided documentation showing that on the 6th April 2018, 108 hot dogs was served and they received no other complaints.
I should point out that the same medical documentation was put before a qualified Gastroenterologist who found that the medical notes (despite being in Spanish) confirmed that Gracie’s white cell count was elevated with a neutrophilia of 94% which was consistent with bacterial infection. Further it was clear that at this stage Jet2 knew that the Huby family blamed the hot dog.
Mr Huby told me how frustrated they were with how Jet2 dealt with this issue. After a long discussion Mr Huby instructed me on a No Win, No Fee basis. I sent a Letter of Claim to Jet2 and they responded in October 2018 with a blanket denial (with no express reference to the hotdog).
It was their view that the hotel had a good system of hygiene and in the absence of other illnesses it was impossible for Gracie’s illness to be linked to the hotel’s.
This is not unusual. What was unusual was the fact that the hotel’s hygiene records demonstrated a consistently poor hygiene standard. To quote a few examples:-
• E-Coli was detected in rice with milk tested in December before the holiday
• Food was found in the pantries that were out of date
• Food was being stored incorrectly (raw food with cooked food) due to the lack of refrigeration space
• Sausages were being stored in cardboard boxes and left directly on the floor.
Although Gracie fell ill shortly after arriving (meaning her illness could have been something she contracted prior to arrival) I found the issue with the hotdog too much of a coincidence. I instructed Dr Linzi Thomas (Gastroenterologist) and she prepared a report for Gracie confirming that in her view she believed the illness was bacterial in nature and caused by consumption of food from the hotel which had become contaminated as a result of the breakdown of hygiene standards.
On this basis, despite the fact that Courts were regularly dismissing these claims, I recommended that legal proceedings be issued. Jet2 instructed Solicitors and they filed a Defence stating that they did not believe the Claimant could prove the illness was caused by the food at the hotel (for the same reasons as set out in the initial denial) and we continued forward by preparing witness statements and disclosing all relevant evidence.
It was during the exchange of evidence that it became apparent that the hotel’s witnesses said very little about the hot dogs (despite the fact that it was Gracie’s case that the hotdogs were the cause) and yet, buried in the disclosure (which was not provided by Jet2 previously) was the technical data information for the hotdogs. The information confirmed that:-
• There were extremely low levels of bacteria within the hotdogs (within the appropriate standards of EU regulations)
• That the hotdogs needed to be kept between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius
• Once opened should be consumed within 2-5 days
The hotel had not provided any evidence of stock rotation, whether items were discarded or how long they had been open for. What the had now provided (which they didn’t before) was evidence that the pool bar fridge (which was the most likely place the hot dogs were stored given the lack of refrigeration space) was recorded as having temperatures of 11 degrees Celsius.
Jet2 continued to drag the poor Huby family all the way to trial. Due to a series of unfortunate events (including COVID and lack of Judges being available) Gracie’s case was not to be heard until January 2021, nearly three years after the holiday.
I was unable to attend the trial, but Gracie was represented by Barrister Dominique Smith of 1 Chancery Lane. Dominique spoke to both Mr & Mrs Huby before the trial and the day started with the cross examination of Mr & Mrs Huby. It was difficult but necessary for both to be cross examined and it took a toll on them both. However, much credit to them both, the stood their ground and did what was best for Gracie.
It was Dominique’s turn next to cross examine the hotel staff. The first witness was not even employed by the hotel on the day that Gracie fell ill and therefore could not confirm whether the appropriate practices were carried out by staff. He did however accept that there was a cross-contamination risk if food was left on the floor (as the records confirmed).
What happened with the next witness was, in my experience in holiday sickness claims, a jaw dropping moment. Dominque took the witness through the various hygiene issues in the hygiene audits, she took the witness to the poor bar fridge records (after reminding him that the hot dogs needed to be kept between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius) confirming the temperatures were high for several days. The witness admitted that the fridge was broken. The hotel knew the fridge was broken and continued to use it. They denied food being kept in it but:-
• There was no evidence they threw out the food
• Continued to record the temperature of the fridge (rather than turn it off)
Jet2’s Barrister made legal submissions about why they thought Gracie had not proven the food was the cause of her illness and criticised us for specifically not putting the hygiene records to our medical expert. Dominque, however, brought a decision to the Judge’s attention (in fact it was my case which Dominique was also instructed on – see Turpin v TUI) which confirmed that if the tour operator wanted the expert to consider a document, they ought to ask the expert to consider it themselves – it wasn’t for the Claimant to bring every document to the expert’s attention.
The Judge gave her Judgment on the same day. She reminded everyone that there was no doubt that Gracie was ill and that it was clear from the photographs and evidence from Mr and Mrs Huby that it was a thoroughly horrible experience for Gracie and the family.
The Judge accepted Dominique’s submissions, including the obvious findings from the hotel’s hygiene audits and the issues with the hotdogs. It was the Judge’s opinion that, on the facts of the case, the inference that it was the food that was the cause of Gracie’s illnesses was compelling. She found that on balance Gracie’s illness was a bacterial infection which was caused by food provided by the hotel.
Gracie was awarded £2,000 because it was two weeks before she recovered in full. The Judge considered that the holiday was significantly ruined for the entire Huby family and awarded £2,500 which was approximately 80% of the holiday costs. It was accepted that it was reasonable that Mr Huby and Mrs Huby had to take in turns being with Gracie at the hospital and as such, their taxi costs were reimbursed in the sum of £166.14, along with an award of £130.50 for Mr and Mrs Huby’s time spent looking after Gracie. The Judge also agreed it was completely reasonable for the Huby family to not want to eat/drink at the hotel after Gracie fell ill and awarded the reimbursement of £472.93 for money spent outside the hotel.
This brought the compensation award to £5,269.57. It did not stop there. We made an early offer to Jet2 to settle the claim which was ignored. As we beat this offer, the Judge awarded further interest on top of Gracie’s compensation which meant her final award was £6,093.47.
As Gracie was not yet 18, the Court is listing the matter for an investment hearing where I expect the Court will agree that her money will be invested in her private ISA to gain further interest until her 18th birthday.
I spoke to Mr Huby as soon as I could and he so very pleased and very emotional. I felt so sorry for the Huby family as Gracie’s illness affected everyone. They really did deserve this win and although it is essential, cross examination at trial is not pleasant and I applauded Mr & Mrs Huby for being willing to go to trial for Gracie’s claim.
One thing I reflected on was that, likely with many holiday sickness cases, Jet2 could have resolved this issue very early on. They could have dealt with the complaint sensibly. The Huby family had evidence of Gracie’s illness (not just the medical records, but photographs of her with an IV drip in hospital) and they chose to contest the complaint. I reckon that had the tour operator apologised then I would have 60% fewer clients.
The total costs to Jet2 with regard to Gracie’s compensation and legal fees was around £15,000. That’s not even including Jet2’s own legal costs. The Huby family are always going to be haunted by the holiday in Tenerife in 2018. Gracie’s sister was just as affected by the illness as Gracie was. The stress, strain and concern for their daughter had a serious effect on Mr and Mrs Huby and they advised me how they broke down emotionally when they heard the Judge confirm that she found for Gracie.
Don’t be bullied into giving up by the big tour operators. If you believe in your case, take it to the end.
I did my research and I knew Alec had a great track record. He and his team are simply the best. You get continued support and updates throughout.
The main thing is they believe in you. In my opinion you will not get a better team to represent you. I owe everything to them and I will never forget how much they did for usMr Huby’s comments following Gracie’s successful trial
I do not wish food poisoning on anyone, it is a horrible feeling. However I am ever so grateful that I was able to help the Huby family get the result that will now allow them to put that dreadful holiday behind them.
I am very grateful for Dominique Smith of 1 Chancery Lane for representing Gracie and the Huby Family at the trial – see her profile here
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Why Do People Bring Claims For Holiday Sickness?
Many people are initially reluctant to make a holiday sickness claim. Some are embarrassed about the idea of having to talk about the symptoms. Some read the news and see the stereotype attached to making holiday sickness claims (suggestion of fraud and a ‘compensation culture’). The common feature is that most of my clients wouldn’t even need me if the travel agent simply acknowledge that there was an illness, that it was likely caused by the hotel and that they were sorry it happened. I would say at least 8/10 of my client would not have made their holiday sickness claim if the travel agent simply apologised.
The main reasons for bringing a holiday sickness claim is to get recognition that their holiday was ruined. Some clients feel they wasted many days of the holiday feeling sick, needing to use the toilet so frequently that they could not enjoy the holiday…. some even have to spend time in a hospital being treated by medical staff who may or may not have a sufficient grasp of the English language.
One of my clients were outright accused of lying and making the illness up. My client was so outraged by the allegation that this pushed her to make a holiday sickness claim where previously, the thought had never crossed her mind.
Many people incur a financial loss as a result of a holiday sickness. Some do not have insurance and have to pay the medical bills up front (or may still pay an excess), some return to the UK still ill and lose time off work. A holiday sickness claim is just not about claiming compensation, it is also about getting recognition that the holiday was ruined as a result.
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