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Tsunami survivors to sue Accor in USA

24 February 2005 by

Nineteen victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami are to file a lawsuit against French hotel giant Accor.

The 15 Austrian and four German survivors will lodge the claim in a New York district court this week, on the grounds that Accor had built its Sofitel hotel in the Thai resort of Khao Lak on a geological fault line.

The plaintiffs in the class-action suit also insist that the hotel giant didn't inform victims' relatives quickly enough after the Boxing Day disaster.

Edward Fagan, the lawyer leading the case, is also targeting the Thai government and the Washington-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for failing to alert people in time.

"We have evidence they [NOAA and Thai government] did not warn us, even though they knew a quarter-of-an-hour later about the strength and location of the quake," Fagan said.

Accor, which runs about 4,000 hotels in 140 countries, has dismissed the claim, saying: "The allegations… do not correspond to reality."

David Parkin, head of corporate litigation at London law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, believes the claimants will have great difficulty in winning the case. "It seems a very tough call against Accor," he said. "The case will hinge on whether the group was aware of the fault line and whether the tsunami was reasonably foreseeable.

"Accor could not only defend the claim, but make a claim itself against the other defendants as the root cause of the problem," he added.

Lawyers acting for the group have said that the case is designed to prove negligence rather than win compensation at this stage.

It is not the first time Fagan has been involved in controversial legal action. He previously helped Holocaust victims secure £1.25b from Swiss companies in the Nazi gold case.

He also represented descendants of US slaves, who sued insurance company Lloyd's for underwriting the ships in which their ancestors were transported.

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 24 February 2005

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