Forst v. Italy Tours - $245,000 Settlement for family of 82 year-old Woman who Fell and Died Stepping off a Tour Bus in Italy.
In September of 2000, the 82 year-old victim fell to the ground while exiting a tour bus in Italy. She suffered a serious head injury and died a short time later at a local hospital. The victim had gone to Italy on a three generational vacation with her daughter, who had arranged the trip, and her granddaughter. Because of the victim's age, the daughter was very careful in selecting a tour operator for the trip. She researched several companies and ultimately selected the defendant for two simple reasons: 1) the company offered what it called a "First Class Escorted Tour," which meant that the tour company would accommodate the special needs of her mother; and 2) the tour company's representatives assured her that they would provide her mother with any physical assistance necessary during the trip.
Nevertheless, when the bus pulled up to the Hotel Royal in San Remo, nobody offered the promised assistance as the elderly passenger exited the bus and she tripped and fell forward to the pavement. Rather than provide the help that had been promised and offered at each previous stop to that point in the Tour, the tour guide ran off the bus and into the hotel, and the bus driver quickly exited and went to the cargo hold under the bus to unload a wheelchair for another elderly tour participant. Nobody stayed to assist passengers disembarking down the bus steps. No portable step was provided to assist any of the other elderly passengers as they stepped down off the bus.
The liability case was hard fought for years. The defendants made three separate summary judgment motions which were defeated, and a later motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. They simply were not accustomed to losing this type of case.
The key to bringing the defendant's insurer to the table and resolving the case was a choice of law motion which argued for the application of European Union law, rather than potentially less favorable U.S. law. Throughout the litigation we had claimed that the defendant's tour manager was an employee or agent of the defendant tour company, while the defendant claimed he was an independent contractor. Rather than leave that question of a jury, we argued for European Union law which completely changed the tenor of the case.
E.U. law provides that tour companies have a non-delegable duty to provide all services associated with a tour and cannot avoid responsibility by claiming that a service provider is an independent contractor.
The threat of the Court applying E.U. law motivated the defendant to favorably resolve the case and settle with the plaintiff.