Legal

13 March 2017, Lawsuit against TUI regarding Sousse hotel massacre moves forward

A group of families whose relatives were killed and/or injured in the June 2015 ISIS attack on the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, is moving forward with their lawsuit of tour company TUI Group that arranged their vacation, reports The Mirror. They are seeking a £10 million ($12,205,350.00 USD) payout.

This move resulted from a two-month inquest by the British coroner’s office that declared ISIS gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, murdered or “unlawfully killed” 30 UK citizens in the attack. The term “unlawfully killed” is the precise legal language that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were waiting for in order to take their lawsuit to the next phase. Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith was the judge/coroner in this case.

At least two UK law firms, Irwin Mitchell and Slater and Gordon, are involved in the suit. If a settlement cannot be reached, then the opposing parties will meet in court.

The plaintiffs, says The Mirror, have leveled the following accusations,* alleging that TUI:

  • Cut its tour package prices to Tunisia in order not to lose business after the 18 March 2015 Bardo Museum massacre in Tunis that killed 22 tourists and locals
  • Told customers the Bardo Museum massacre was an exceptional incident and Tunisia was completely safe for tourism
  • Travel agents had a list of prewritten statements to assuage customers’ Tunisia travel fears, which insinuates the company understood the threat but sought to cover it up
  • Promoted British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice for Tunisia, which said – according to TUI’s interpretation – that the country was safe for travel when the FCO’s advice did not actually say this
  • Told anyone wanting to cancel their travel plans to Tunisia that they faced high financial penalties

*Muir Analytics stresses that these are the plaintiffs’ accusations, and TUI has strenuously denied them all.

Regarding the Bardo Museum cover up accusation, the Daily Mail said Judge Loraine-Smith read a Tunisia-related TUI “crib sheet” aloud in court, concluding: “Firstly it does not give any details of the [Bardo] attack. Secondly, it does not mention terrorism or risk of terrorism. And thirdly, although it refers to FCO advice, it doesn’t give any guidance as to where it’s going to be found.” TUI reportedly produced the crib sheet a mere two days after the Bardo Museum attack.

The case against TUI can be summed up by a quote in The Guardian from one of the victims’ family members whose brother and father were murdered:

“My family placed their trust in the fact that TUI, with all their knowledge and expertise, would not allow my family to travel to a hotel or destination where their safety was not the first priority. And yet, despite the Bardo museum attack only months earlier, they received no advice/warning. I am concerned that customer safety did not seem to be a priority. I believe this top five-star hotel was chosen by a terrorist cell because it was an easy target.”

TUI’s defense case has made the rounds in the news as well. For example, Travers Today on 3 March 2017 ran an article interpreting Judge Loraine-Smith’s findings (legal observations, not final rulings) as an exoneration of both the hotel and TUI, asserting, “He [the judge] could not also make a direct link between the tour agency’s neglect and the deaths of the victims because according to the law, the tourists voluntarily agreed to go to the said vacation, therefore the law concerning neglect does not cover them.”

This is a curious interpretation because:

  • If hotels and tour operators are not liable for the safety of the guests and customers in their care, then why do they employ health and security specialists in the first place?
  • If hotel and travel company health and security specialists are not supposed to care for their guests and clients, then what is their job description?
  • If the first two above points are the bedrock of TUI’s defense, and if it is successful, is the legal concept of “duty of care” now dead?
  • If the judge/coroner’s statement here is accurate, then what was the precedent behind the Will Pike lawsuit against the Taj Mahal hotel for paralyzing injuries Pike sustained during the 2008 Mumbai attacks? Taj Mahal hotel lawyers had aimed at preventing that case from making it into the British court system, but it did, causing the hotel’s parent company to immediately settle out of court for an undisclosed sum.

On the other hand, the website MICE BTN, on 2 March 2017, said the judge/coroner stated that legal precedents in this case “substantially limit the circumstances in which neglect can feature in inquest conclusions.” It could be, then, that the judge/coroner sees technical legal restrictions on assigning negligence. It is not clear what those restrictions are, however. All should be made more apparent as the case against TUI moves forward.

Sources and further reading:

Families of Tunisia beach attack victims plan to sue tour operator,” Travelers Today, 3 March 2017.

Coroner rules tour firm not negligent in Tunisia terror attack, families say they’ll sue,” MICE BTN, 2 March 2017.

Tunisia terror victims’ families vow to sue travel giant Tui as it emerges the firm spied on a grieving husband on Facebook in an effort to dodge blame,” Daily Mail, 28 February 2017.

Families preparing to start legal action against tour operator TUI,” iTV, 28 February 2017.

Grieving families of Brits killed in Tunisia beach massacre to launch bid for £10 million compensation,” The Mirror, 28 February 2017.

Families of Tunisia beach attack victims to sue travel company,” The Guardian, 28 February 2017.

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