Landmark Appeal Court Ruling – Accidents in foreign hotels

The case of Japp v Virgin Holidays [2013] EWCA Civ 1371,is now the most authoritative decision on local standards for structural features of hotels in holiday claims.

This case involved a holiday maker on holiday in Barbados. Mrs Japp has been on her balcony of the hotel she was staying in when the telephone rang insider her room. She went to enter the room and walked straight in to the plate glass door. The glass in the door was not toughened or safety glass as one would expect in a hotel. It was annealed float glass, which shattered on impact and caused Mrs Japp serious lacerations. Mrs Japp brought an action against the package tour operator.

It was accepted between the parties that the Defendant was required to provide accommodation of a reasonable standard that was reasonably safe, and that the accommodation would comply with all applicable local safety standards and regulations that were in force.  What constituted a reasonable standard was decided by reference to the building regulations as they applied in the country where the accident happened. The key issue here was at what time were the local building standards relevant? When the hotel was constructed or at the date of the accident? The lower court held that the building code or standards at the date of the accident needed to be applied. On this basis, if the local building standards at the date when the accident occurred stipulated toughened glass was to be used in windows then the tour operator would be held liable for the accident.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that the relevant date was not the date of the accident, but the date of construction of the hotel. They agreed with the Defendant that, unless changing standards provided for updating (which there was no evidence in this case they did), there was no duty to update the premises to comply with improving standards.

In this case the experts agreed that the Barbados National Building Code (published by the Barbados National Standards Institution) stated that this sort of door should be
fitted with safety glass and that this was an “essential minimum provision in the public interest”. The Code was published in 1993, prior to the installation
of the door in 1994. The Claimant was therefore successful with her claim.

Of interest is the arguments in the Court of Appeal about whether there could be a breach of duty even where local building standards  were complied with. The Court did not comment on this but it has been suggested that there could be development of the law in this area towards this position.