Travellers to international destinations should be aware of a recent series of court decisions that may limit their ability to sue when they are injured away from Ontario.
In Haufler v. Hotel Riu, a child from Ontario on vacation in Mexico with her family was injured while operating an ATV on an excursion in 2006.
They had purchased their vacation from Sunquest Vacations and had never dealt with the Hotel directly, although they did pay the excursion operator when it was purchased in the Hotel lobby (the Hotel denied having any financial interest in the sale of the excursion).
The minor plaintiff was immediately medevac’d back to Ontario for treatment.
Her mother sued the Hotel and the excursion operator on her daughter’s behalf, both of whom said that the Ontario Court had no jurisdiction over them.
Generally, to sue an international defendant in Ontario, there has to be some “real and substantial” connection with Ontario, for example, an office in Ontario or some other business activity here.
The defendants said that since the accommodation was purchased from Sunquest (who were not named as defendants) as part of the vacation package and not directly from the hotel, there was no relationship with them, and even though the Hotel may have advertised in Ontario and had an agent here, the connection with Ontario was not strong enough. An additional problem was that the excursion operator, who did sell directly to the plaintiff in the Hotel lobby, was believed to be bankrupt. There was evidence of a complicated arrangement of intermediary international companies buying and selling blocks of rooms, none of which the plaintiffs would have known about. Many people never deal directly with hotels and other entities when they book their vacations.
The Court agreed with the defendants and stayed (threw out) the action in Ontario.
This could put a plaintiff at a serious disadvantage because of distance and related costs of bringing a lawsuit in a foreign country, but also because the justice system in Mexico is far more unpredictable than that in Ontario.
The moral of the story is that if you book foreign travel through a tour operator in Ontario and not with the destination directly, ensure that you have adequate medical coverage when you leave Canada and always very carefully research the destination for signs of any problems with safety and security. The internet and such sites as TripAdvisor.com should be very useful for this purpose.