International law firm Hill Dickinson has successfully defended its client, Bourne Leisure, in a 219-claimant class action involving a Norovirus outbreak which occurred at a Butlin’s site in 2011.
Over 4,000 guests and an additional 1,200 team members were onsite at the time of the outbreak and around 400 people reported illness.
The firm’s client denied liability throughout on the basis that its policies and procedures for dealing with a Norovirus outbreak were sufficiently robust and had been appropriately followed. The claimants’ solicitor issued court proceedings in 2014.
Despite expert evidence, provided by a microbiologist, gastroenterologist and environmental health officer, which supported Bourne Leisure’s defence, the claimants’ solicitors continued on to trial and maintained that it would only settle for damages and costs, an offer which was refused by the client.
A 15-day trial of the claim was set to commence on 28 November at London’s High Court before Mr Justice Lewis. However, the claimants’ case subsequently disintegrated upon receipt of a joint report from the parties’ microbiology experts, which agreed that it was improbable that the point source of the causative Norovirus outbreak was food prepared at Butlin’s.
Hill Dickinson evidenced how its client had done nothing to either cause or exacerbate the outbreak and in addition, was able to rebut the claimant’s quality complaints with records retained at the resort. Hill Dickinson pressed for the claimants to discontinue, which they did just 10 days before trial, paying its client’s costs of £400,000.
The claimants’ law firm had put forward an offer to settle for damages in the sum of £120,000.00 (approximately £500.00 per claimant). Their costs schedule, if they had been successful, inclusive of the 100% success fee uplift, would have been in the region of £6 million.
Commenting on the case, Hill Dickinson partner, David Scott, said: “This is an excellent result for our client and demonstrates the advantages of maintaining a robust defence in circumstances where there can be shown to have been good policies and systems in place, appropriately implemented and evidenced by retained documentation.”
David Waterfield, general counsel for Bourne Leisure, said: “The Hill Dickinson team provided us with fantastic support for the duration of this case. We were very grateful for their resilience, tenacity and above all, helpfulness throughout. We were delighted that we had them in our corner.”
Dermot King, managing director of Butlin’s, added: “Butlin’s is an iconic and trusted British brand and such inaccurate and defamatory claims can be hugely damaging to our reputation as a business.
“We have maintained this was a Norovirus outbreak since June 2011. There was not only an outbreak at Butlin’s during this time but also the surrounding area which affected hospitals and local schools.
“The outbreak was extremely well controlled and the environmental health officer visiting the site during the outbreak was satisfied the policies and procedures were being implemented.
“The Butlin’s Norovirus Policy has since been accredited by the Chartered Institution of Environmental Health and the Royal Society for Public Health.”
This is the second victory of its kind for Hill Dickinson. In what is seen as a landmark judgment, it was the first law firm to have successfully defended the first UK class action involving Norovirus onboard a cruise liner in 2015.