Court upholds "English notions" of H&S

Posted: 8th November 2013

TropicalA tourist who suffered life-threatening cuts after walking into a plate glass door in her bikini whilst staying at a hotel in Barbados has fought off a travel company’s bid to strip her of her £19,200 damages award.

Virgin Holidays Limited had warned that the pay-out to Moira Japp would create a damaging precedent and oblige tour operators to export tough British health and safety standards to ‘far flung, exotic places’. However, the company was found to have booked Mrs Japp into a hotel where she would not be reasonably safe.

Mrs Japp had been reading a book on the balcony of her room at the luxury hotel, and was wearing only her swimsuit, when the telephone rang and she accidentally walked into a closed set of French windows. The glass shattered and she suffered deep lacerations all over her body which her lawyers said could have cost her her life.

After she launched proceedings, a County Court judge ruled Virgin Holidays 80 per cent liable for the accident – with a 20 per cent deduction for contributory negligence  – on the  basis that the pane through which Mrs Japp crashed was only one-quarter of an inch thick and was neither toughened nor safety glass.

In challenging that decision, Virgin Holidays argued, amongst other things, that it would cause great difficulties for the UK tourist industry in general if travel agents were obliged to ensure that foreign hotels complied with ‘English notions' of reasonable health and safety standards.

The Court accepted that the trial judge had been wrong to consider the accident in terms of compliance with local safety standards when it happened in 2008, rather than when the hotel was built in 1994. He had also erred in finding that there was a continuing duty to update the hotel so as to comply with developing safety standards.

Dismissing the appeal, the Court upheld the judge’s finding that the pane of glass concerned did not comply with local building standards that were customarily followed at the time of the hotel’s construction.

The Court concluded, “The appeal has served to establish an important point of principle in Virgin Holidays’ favour on the question whether, in relation to a structural feature such as the balcony doors, the duty of care falls to be considered by reference to local standards at the date of construction/installation or at the date of the accident. However, Virgin Holidays fails in its challenge to the judge’s finding of fact that the doors did not comply with local standards at the date of their installation.”