Adventure holidays abroad are increasingly popular but, as a High Court case made plain, tourists should be extremely careful when invited to sign documents before taking part in potentially hazardous activities.
A young woman embarked on what was described as an all-terrain safari whilst on a two-week holiday in Mexico. She was a passenger in an off-road vehicle when it rolled over, severing her arm above the elbow. Prior to the accident, she signed an agreement that included a clause stating that the courts in the resort where she was staying would have exclusive jurisdiction to resolve any disputes arising.
After her return home, she issued a personal injury claim in this country against the Mexican company that was said to have arranged the ill-fated excursion. However, in arguing that the case should be tried in the local courts, the company pointed to, amongst other things, the jurisdiction clause.
Ruling on the matter, the Court acknowledged that the woman is habitually resident and domiciled in England and that her claim stood a real prospect of success. In contending that her case should be heard in this country, she argued that pursuing her claim in Mexico would give rise to a raft of evidential, linguistic and other difficulties and would be prohibitively expensive. The Mexican courts were also said to be less adept at dealing with catastrophic injury cases.
Crucially, however, the Court found that the jurisdiction clause was likely to be viewed as valid in Mexico. The Mexican courts are competent to deal with serious personal injury cases and have become increasingly claimant-friendly in recent times. The woman had succeeded in raising significant sums that could be used to fund her case and any economic imbalance or interference with her human rights was not so severe as to render the jurisdiction clause void.
The Court further noted that the company operates exclusively in Mexico, where it is registered and where the accident took place. Much of the evidence would focus on events in Mexico and the case, even if heard in England, would have to be decided under Mexican law. Overall, the Court concluded that Mexico was the natural and appropriate forum in which the case should be tried and that the ends of justice would be better met there than in England. The English proceedings were therefore stayed.