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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Tuesday 29 November 2016


Let last week's decision in a High Court claim against the Ministry of Defence be a lesson to all litigants - and the MoD!

A Royal Marine had become ill with Q fever when returning to the UK from service in Afghanistan, ultimately leading to him suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. He sued the MoD for damages, claiming that he should have been given an antibiotic before he went or when his symptoms materialised.

Documents held by each side to a claim may be the route to success or failure in litigation. And, as a general rule, the documents which one party holds on an issue in a case, must be disclosed to the other side. The Royal Marine's solicitors were after the MoD's documents about the state of knowledge when the fever was contracted as to risks and treatments and why no antibiotics had been supplied. 

The MoD agreed to disclose its relevant documents by September 2015. In May 2016 it had not done so and asked for more time even though this would put back the trial date which had already been scheduled. A judge gave it more time but directed that if it did not comply then its defence would be struck out and judgment would be entered for the claimant about whether the MoD was liable. One day before the MoD's time for full compliance ran out, it applied again for even more time. 

The judge was unimpressed. He said that the volume of documentation involved could have been foreseen and that delay had not been caused by matters beyond the MoD's control. Pressure of other work and demands on staff were not adequate excuses.

The High Court will now decide on the level of the claimant's damages. 

There are other Q fever claims pending against the MoD.

Monday 28 November 2016


So we stayed at the Hilton in Deansgate, Manchester for two nights last August. Executive room (sounded rather grand) at the special price of £264 for the stay including breakfast. Twelve things went wrong. I won't bore you with them all: fridge door jammed close, bathroom door would only open with the application of considerable force causing loud noise, 'drilling' in the middle of the  first night, only one armchair.... 

It wasn't outrageously dreadful. It just wasn't good enough. 

I wrote to the general manger and ended my letter like this-

"I invite your proposals for remedying what collectively amounts to a substantially sub-standard service by a monetary payment. I would not consider the acceptance of a voucher or a free or reduced charge stay at a Hilton establishment in the future as being appropriate or acceptable. I shall be glad to hear from you within the next ten days."

And his replied included this-

" In summary I'm disappointed that you didn't raise these (complaints) at the time as we do pride ourselves in providing the best possible service and ensuring every guest's (sic) apart with a memorable stay. However notwithstanding sadly apologies after the facts seldom make amend. As a genuine gesture of my sincerity allow me to arrange Sunday lunch,  excluding wine at a convenient Hilton hotel for you in response to your disappointment with us at Hilton Manchester Deansgate."

I returned -

"Your gesture proposal falls within the type of gestures to which I alluded in the final paragraph of my original letter and so is not suitable. For the record, I assume that you had intended lunch for two and that water would have been included free of charge. Therefore, I ask for your proposals for a monetary payment and would wish to hear from you within the next seven days."

And then he said-

"While I accept and understand your frustration however, my goodwill gesture of a complimentary Sunday Lunch for 2 guests excluding wine at a convenient Hilton Hotel remains and I do hope that we are able to make the necessary arrangements for you in the near future."

And then I replied -

"When it comes to evasion in relation to a monetary claim against your company, you have no equal. Your company’s Chief Executive Officer should award you a prize. What I suggest is a Sunday lunch for two at a convenient Hilton hotel, excluding wine but including bottled water with no option to upgrade to a dover sole off the bone........

.....I have told you not once but twice that I do not want the sort of gesture you have offered. I know you can read so why be silly and persist in the offer. I have lost my patience. Unless, within seven days of the date of this letter, I receive a satisfactory monetary proposal from you to settle my claim, I shall institute proceedings against your company for damages, interest and costs without further notice. If the problem is that your company needs time to pay then just say so and we can consider what you suggest."

No monetary proposal was received and so I made an on line claim on 7 November 2016 for £290 plus the £25 court fee. Hilton has just settled in full on 24 November 2016.

These are the morals of the story-

1 If any hotel (or holiday) service fails to meet the standards set by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 or what you specifically agreed, then your compensation can reflect the diminution in the value of the service and disappointment, aggravation and the like.

2 If the law is on your side and you are entitled to compensation then you cannot be foisted off with a voucher, free stay or free meal in the future (although a non-monetary gesture could conceivably lead to a better deal for you so your decision must depend on what is on offer as compared to what the claim is worth in monetary terms).

3 By claiming for a specific figure once you bring proceedings (although you might simply want to ask for the other side's proposals when you first complain to them as you could be offered more than you would have asked for), you can obtain a judgment for that specific sum without any court hearing to fix the compensation when the other side fails to put in a defence.

Much more in Breaking Law.