Scenic, one of Australia’s best known European river cruise operators, last night claimed partial victory in its court fight with a thousand passengers who said their holidays were ruined by floods five years ago.
In a landmark case about what should happen when Europe’s delicate weather patterns make cruising the waterways difficult, Scenic appealed a ruling that it should repay the full price of the cruise to passengers who took a class action maintaining they were not warned floods made sailing impossible.
Had the line lost the appeal, it could have faced paying millions in compensation, as passengers claimed each cruise cost around $10,000.
After the Appeal Court issued its findings, the passengers’ lawyers put out a statement claiming that the case set new benchmarks for how cruise companies should treat their passengers under circumstances like the floods.
Scenic also put out a statement saying the Court of Appeal had overturned a key ruling by the Supreme Court that the passengers should be repaid in full, and instead said the service Scenic had provided should be taken into account.
Scenic has always insisted it did its best to provide the holidays the passengers had asked for, bussing passengers to shore excursion sites and swopping ships to make sure they moved around.
“The Court of Appeal has accepted a number of Scenic’s appeal arguments and was in fact not a total rejection of the appeal by Scenic,” said the company statement.
“In a very detailed judgment, the Court of Appeal agreed with Scenic that the Supreme Court judgment contained various errors, in particular, in relation to the damages ordered against Scenic. Significantly, the Court of Appeal has dismissed a previously awarded component of damages and has ordered that the Supreme Court reassess the level of compensation to be paid.”
Ironically, the judgement comes as Europe’s rivers are once again providing a challenge for cruisers – this time because of low water levels.
Lawyers acting for the passengers claimed some travellers were still not being warned, and maintained their case would lead to stricter vigilance over the way cruise lines behaved.
“None of the Court’s findings changed the end result – that Scenic breached its obligations under the Australian Consumer Law in relation to all cruises under consideration, and accordingly all passengers on those cruises will be entitled to damages,” maintained lawyer Cameron Graham.
“The Court did not find that the amount of damages should be reduced to take into account the small amount of services received by passengers on either side of significant disruptions.
“The essential point of the Court’s finding is clear: if you pay for a luxury river cruise, you are entitled to receive a luxury river cruise or compensation in respect of what you have paid.”
More than 1,000 passengers launched a class action against Scenic, claiming river cruise holidays between April and May 2013 were severely affected by the flooding on European waterways.
According to the passengers, they were bussed from place to place and didn’t get the holiday the paid for.
“What should have been luxury river cruises turned into second rate, Contiki style bus tours,” said a statement from the passengers’ lawyers.
Justice Peter Garling last year found passengers were entitled to damages.
But Scenic appealed, and now says it had three significant wins: the damages will be reduced, compensation for pain and suffering has been removed and costs are to be split.
Founding Partner of Somerville Legal, Tim Somerville and his wife were passengers on a cruise in southern France.
Mr Somerville, who is representing the 1,265 plaintiffs, maintained: “In light of the significant disruptions faced again by European river cruise passengers in recent months, the Court of Appeal’s judgement serves as a timely reminder to cruise companies that their passengers must be provided with the services for which they have paid.”
The Court of Appeal has now sent the case back to Justice Garling, to determine the amount of damages available to passengers in accordance with the judgment.
In the current disruption, Scenic maintained it was doing more than any other line on the rivers.
Scenic’s River Cruise Guarantee ensures that on every Scenic Group river cruise guests are automatically covered after the commencement of their cruise for a range of itinerary amendments or delays of the planned itinerary which result in significant change to the cruise.
Further detail on the Scenic River Cruise Guarantee is available on the website www.scenic.com.au