Hotel owners must pay after gas deaths

Posted: 30th July 2013

hotelThe owners of a Greek hotel where two British children died from carbon monoxide poisoning are facing claims for more than £5 million in damages after the High Court found that they had breached the ‘absolute’ contractual duty that they owed to tour operators to provide safe rooms for holiday makers.

Christianne Shepherd, aged seven, and her six-year-old brother, Robert, died after they were poisoned as they slept in a Corfu hotel room while on holiday with their father and his partner. A gas boiler used to provide hot tap water to their room at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel had malfunctioned, pumping the deadly, but odourless, gas into their room as they slept in October 2006.

The current owners of the hotel, to whom the liabilities of the owners at the time of the tragedy had been assigned, had already agreed to pay damages to the children’s family. They admitted that a flue had not been fitted to the boiler – which was described as a ‘death trap’ – and that a fume protection device had either been removed or short-circuited.

Two corporate members of the Thomas Cook travel agency group (Thomas Cook), through whom the family holiday had been arranged, sued the hotel owners for breach of contract in order to recover the very substantial costs incurred as a result of the fatal incident.

Those included the expense of defending two Thomas Cook employees who were prosecuted and acquitted in Greece; the cost of legal advice and dealing with the media and loss of revenue arising from cancelled bookings as well as expenditure of considerable staff time on dealing with the matter. Thomas Cook put its total losses at in excess of £5 million.

Granting summary judgment to Thomas Cook, the High Court found that the hotel owners had no viable defence to the claim. They were ordered to make an interim payment of £1 million to Thomas Cook pending final assessment of the damages payable, including compensation for future losses that may arise under the contract.

The Court rejected the hotel owners’ plea that they should not be held liable as third party contractors were responsible for maintaining the boiler. Even if that were the case, the Court found that it did not relieve the owners of their absolute obligation to provide the family with a safe room. Arguments that Thomas Cook agents had been negligent in failing to ensure a more thorough inspection of the room were also dismissed.