Brexit: ‘Last-minute deal’ could see Britons face huge losses despite travel insurance

Holidays: Europe post-Brexit travel advice provided by expert

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The UK officially left the EU as of January 1, 2021, and brought with it a number of changes for Britons jetting off on a European holiday. Though many hopeful holidaymakers may have their sights set on a vacation in the summer of 2021, Martyn Gwyther, head of foreign jurisdiction at Thompsons Solicitors told of some new changes for travel which could leave travellers out of pocket in certain scenarios.

Though falling ill or being involved in an accident abroad is an unfortunate situation, and one most holidaymakers don’t plan on, Mr Gwyther points out it is a situation which could see some Britons left fighting for adequate support.

“Prior to the Brexit deal coming into force on 1 January 2021, UK residents who were injured or fell ill in while in an EU nation could use EU law to bring a claim back home.

“This meant that unfortunate holidaymakers didn’t need to worry about making a claim in a foreign court, significantly improving their access to justice,” Mr Gwyther explained.

“With Brexit now in force, judges will need to determine where it would be most convenient for a case to be heard, which brings uncertainty and will lead to inconsistent judgments.

“With COVID-19 having caused a huge UK court backlog, judges with heavy workloads may simply decide to pass on dealing with a claim where the only link is that the claimant happens to live here.”

For holidaymakers unable to make a claim in a UK court, this could mean having their case heard abroad – something which comes with a hefty price tag and not always accounted for even in the most robust of travel insurance packages.

“If a holidaymaker can’t sue in UK courts, they will be forced to launch a claim in the country where the accident happened, which will prove more difficult,” the legal expert explained.

“The legal systems of most EU countries vary, and all are vastly different from the UK.

“Law firms abroad may ask claimants for hundreds, if not thousands, of Euros up-front before starting a claim, pricing all but the very wealthy out of being able to access justice.”

He continued: “Suing abroad will involve travel and translators meaning that all the outgoings may end up costing more than the potential settlement itself, in a claim for broken bones, for example.

“In serious claims, the injured person could be left high and dry, unable to seek justice because they don’t have the funds to pursue a claim, or having to settle early when their funds run out.

“They may well lose out on money desperately needed for home adaptations, care, support and rehabilitation.

“When that happens, they will have to fall back on the NHS and benefits in the UK, when the people who should be paying is the party who injured them.”

He also pointed out “many policies may only cover costs for legal proceedings in England and Wales which is of no use if the traveller must fight their case abroad.

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Furthermore, many insurers also set out financial limits on legal cover, which “may not be sufficient if the claim is contested and goes to trial”.

Though travel insurance may not be able to foot the costs of legal proceedings, Mr Gwyther urges holidaymakers to always make sure they invest in good coverage.

“Travel insurance has always been important but it will be vital in a post-Brexit world,” he said.

“Spend time looking at different policies and find the one that suits your travel needs best.

“While travel insurance won’t necessarily enable you to launch a legal claim for additional damages or lost work, it can at least cover the often-costly medical expenses that you might face.”

Luckily, there are some cases in which a strong travel insurance package could provide coverage for injury or accident while travelling in Europe.

“This is possible in a limited number of cases, but holiday insurance contracts usually have a number of strict clauses in their terms and conditions – and failure to meet these will nullify your claim.”

According to Mr Gwyther most travel insurers will include clauses stating they will only and the case if the prospects of success in the claim are good or if the compensation will be “significantly greater than the legal costs.

He added: “This will make claiming for less severe injuries almost impossible for Britons abroad.”

Many travel insurers will not pay out in a legal case if the accident or injury was acquired during extreme sports – which is usually covered by more robust “extreme sports” specific packages.

Furthermore, the more scenarios an insurance policy will pay out for, the bigger the cost for the holidaymaker.

“Policies will vary dramatically, and travellers will need to be very careful when selecting them to make sure that they are adequate to meet their needs,” said the legal expert.

“The greater the level of cover requested, the greater the cost of the policy itself; meaning that many travellers will face the risk of being priced out of the market for the very insurance that should be protecting them.”

Luckily, there is one type of holiday which ensures travellers are most protected.

“To increase your likelihood of being able to make a claim in the UK, it is worth booking your trip as a package holiday through a UK-based tour operator,” advised Mr Gwyther.

“That way, if you become ill or suffer an injury at a hotel or associated restaurant, on an arranged tour or while travelling to or from the airport, the claim can be made against the tour operator in the UK.”

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