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Making holidays accessible after injury

Medical negligence lawyer Claire White and paralegal Celia Hewitt discuss the issues faced by those with mobility impairments when they go on holiday and the associated costs that can be included as part of a legal claim if the disability is a result of negligence.

Travelling with a disability
Claire is a medical negligence solicitor based in Leigh Day's Manchester office.  You can follow Claire on twitter on @clairewhite336 
When a disability occurs as a result of personal injury or clinical negligence, any compensation awarded aims to place the injured person in so far as is possible, in the position they would have been in had the injury not occurred. In attempting to do so, the compensation awarded should reflect the costs of appropriate accommodation and/or adapting accommodation to suit a person’s needs, providing adequate care, transport and mobility aids to allow the injured person to, where possible, do the things that they did prior to their injury.  This includes any increased costs of enabling them to access social and leisure pursuits, including holidays. As a result of their injury, it may be significantly more expensive for the injured person to take the same type of holiday that they would have taken prior to their injury.

As of 1 July 2018, legislative change required that package holiday organisers must inform customers of whether the trip is generally suitable for persons with reduced mobility. However, despite the companies providing holidays aiming to remove mobility barriers that people face abroad, there are still many issues that those with mobility impairments have to deal with when travelling.

There can often be additional hidden costs for a disabled traveller. Often a standard economy flight seat is no longer an option for some people post-injury. This can be for a variety of reasons, for example increased pain on sitting for long periods meaning that the individual needs space to move more often. Those with severe disability may require assistance with for example, eating, drinking, and the administration of medication during the flight which can be more comfortably provided by a carer or relative with additional room.  Wheelchair users are at risk of having an inaccessible hotel room due to features such as steps in the bathroom or doors that are not wide enough for wheelchair access. Booking a hotel room and then arriving to find out that despite having requested wheelchair access at the time of booking, the only room now available is a standard (inaccessible) one, is not a risk that a wheelchair user can afford to take. Although some hotels purport to offer wheelchair accessible rooms at reasonable rates, in order to guarantee the accessible room there is often a premium reservation fee to pay.   

Those with impaired mobility may require equipment such as a commode, a hoist or a shower chair which are often too large to travel with and therefore have to be hired in advance of the holiday. Even if the mobility aid is small enough to travel with, there can be additional luggage fees and further assistance might be required to transport the item from the airport to the hotel – an electric wheelchair and a commode may well not fit into the boot of a standard taxi! Sometimes airlines charge additional fees or refuse to carry electric wheelchairs and therefore this is something that needs to be considered in advance.  Permission is also required from the airline to take some types of medication through airport security, which can add another layer of stress to holiday organising for the individual.  

For someone with limited mobility, using local public transport and walking between attractions on holiday is often simply not possible. Even if an individual is able to walk short distances, having their wheelchair on hand to use as required can be a necessity. It is therefore often the best option to hire a wheelchair accessible vehicle that can accommodate a disabled person and their family members, their wheelchair and any other equipment that they will require for a day out. Sometimes this will mean locating a vehicle that enables the individual to “roll on” and “roll off” to the vehicle whilst still in their wheelchair if their mobility problem is such that they are unable to take any steps at all unaided. 

Finding appropriate transport is another aspect of travelling that can be much more challenging for individuals with mobility problems. Often when a traveller arranges to pick up a hire car from the airport the make and model of car is switched by the rental company at short notice due to availability that day. If my partner and I end up with a Fiat Punto instead of a Ford Ka it will not affect how much I enjoy my trip, however for a person with a disability this is not the case – they must be absolutely sure that an appropriate vehicle will be available for them on arrival, otherwise they risk being stranded at the airport. Careful research has to be carried out prior to the trip in this regard and sometimes lack of an appropriate vehicle can rule out a holiday destination.  If instead the traveller decides to use a taxi service whilst on holiday, we must consider whether there are taxi services available with wheelchair accessibility and vehicles large enough to accommodate equipment and family and/or carers. Specialist private transfers are sometimes available, however, these usually need to be booked in advance, and the small number of these specialist vehicles means there is an increased cost when compared to a standard transfer.

Prior to booking a holiday, the accessibility of any tours and sightseeing locations has to be considered. In the past, we have, for example researched the accessibility of Temples in Thailand, Safari lodges in Kenya and park facilities in Disneyworld for disabled clients in order to ascertain what additional assistance will be required to enable them to enjoy their holiday.  This is not always just a question of checking whether there is wheelchair access – sometimes there are sections where a wheelchair cannot be used, but where the client will need to walk a short distance with the aid of, for example walking sticks and/or a functional electrical stimulator. Consideration needs to be given to whether there are uneven surfaces and whether assistance is available if required.

A further issue is whether there are wheelchair accessible toilets for the traveller to use, particularly for those who are incontinent and require adapted bathroom facilities whilst travelling during the holiday. This can be difficult to find information on in advance of the trip but again is not a risk that some disabled individuals can take.  The extent of disability suffered by some individuals, for example those who have suffered brain injuries, are such that the individual requires care on a 24 hour basis. Where such a high level of care is required, it can be necessary to take professional carers on the holiday. Where carer/s are needed, there will be an increased cost of additional flights and accommodation for the carer/s. This can make holidays post-injury very expensive when compared with pre-injury. 

There are some specialist travel companies that exist in order to help source appropriate transfers, flights, accommodation, tours and equipment for a disabled traveller. These companies often have links with specific companies in resorts and can give guarantees that a particular item or service will be available. However the peace of mind provided by these companies comes at a cost, as the holidays and services provided are more expensive to enable the specialist company to take a fee.  

Taking a holiday after a serious injury resulting in a range of new needs can be an intimidating prospect. In cases where it has been proven that the individual’s disabilities resulted from negligence, we research any additional cost incurred in taking the type of holiday that the individual took prior to their injury, including obtaining quotes from companies in resorts and disabled travel companies to help the individual to demonstrate to the court the additional expense that they will incur in taking holidays post-injury. 

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