Recent events unfolding in Nepal resulted from a natural disaster no one could have predicted with devastating consequences for lives and property. While it's sheer scale has overshadowed any previous Himalayan accident, as recently as October last year another disaster struck in Nepal's Annapurna area, which resulted in the deaths of at least 43 people with many more seriously injured by the effects of frostbite and other illnesses caused by exposure and exhaustion. Unlike the earthquake this earlier tragedy appears to have been entirely preventable.
An unexpected cyclone blew in from Tibet, causing enormous blizzards where 6 feet of snow fell in 12 hours across the famous Annapurna trekking circuit. Trekkers who were caught in the open were strung out across a 17,000 foot high pass or "la", most lightly dressed and with no tents or extreme weather gear. Many did not even have hats or gloves and were relying on the usually excellent, sunny daytime conditions at that time of year. The route has a series of tea houses for overnight stays and many of the trekkers who were out typically had no prior hill walking or mountain experience. The blizzard caused a whiteout where trails vanished and visibility was limited to several feet. Many of those trapped in the open succumbed to hypothermia or were buried in the inevitable avalanches which followed the next day when temperatures rose.
One UK survivor claimed trekkers were "herded to their deaths" by ill-equipped guides. The authorities in Nepal meanwhile blamed the high loss of life on budget tourists who were trying to save money by not hiring guides to cross the high mountain pass where the main loss of life occurred. The weather front was easily spotted on weather charts but no one warned the trekkers or provided advice or "weather warning" notices along the trail.
Adventure holidays are big business in the UK, where a tour company can take you to the exotic places in the world over a fortnight or extended holiday period. What remedies, if any arise in such circumstances both in UK and where the accident is abroad ?
Is it a package holiday?
As a general rule if a holiday is a "package holiday" then under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 the injured party may be able to pursue a claim against the holiday company in his local UK Court; this potentially presents a huge advantage to the claimant.
A package holiday is one where "transport, accommodation and tourist services", such as a tour representative or day trips are provided as part of the cost, so this would cover most standard or adventure-type holidays.
Under S(2) "The other party to the contract is liable to the consumer for any damage caused to him by the failure to perform the contract or the improper performance of the contract unless the failure of the improper performance is due neither to any fault of that other party nor to that of another supplier of services."
Poor performance usually involves consideration of the reasonable skill and care to be expected (here of local guiding companies in Nepal), as judged by their own local standards.
Suing UK courts
If a mountain guide exposed his clients to such risks then the UK tour operator could be sued here and held responsible for the failure. Evidence could be led proving the failures leading to the injury and what ordinary precautions ought reasonably to have been taken, judged by established Nepalese good practice. If required, local experts could be led about good practice in Himalayan mountaineering and, if alive the trekker or any colleagues could give evidence about the main circumstances. The tour company in order to rebut the essential facts might require evidence from the Nepalese guiding company or other witnesses from Nepal, which would be very unlikely so, in practice if the main evidential hurdles are crossed by the claimant he will be unlikely to face competing evidence in court.
Just because an accident happens in a far off place should not put off a claimant, who may be able to sue in a UK court where fault can be shown and where he has engaged a package tour operator here, in the UK.