In a case which raised issues of importance to any foreign traveller – as well as to corporate lawyers – the High Court has accepted jurisdiction to hear a multi-million-pound damages claim brought by the widow of one of Britain’s top legal brains, who died when a limousine crashed during a family holiday to Egypt.
Distinguished international arbitrator and barrister Professor Sir Ian Brownlie CBE QC was aged 77 but still at the height of his powers when he was killed near Cairo in 2010 whilst on a chauffeur-driven 'safari' tour of the country's monuments with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.
The family were staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo at the time of the accident, which also claimed the life of Sir Ian's daughter Rebecca. His widow, Lady Christine Brownlie, who was also badly injured in the crash, launched proceedings in England against Canadian company Four Seasons Holdings Incorporated (FSH), claiming a seven-figure sum in damages.
FSH insisted that the English courts had no jurisdiction to hear the case and that the matter should be dealt with by the Egyptian courts under Egyptian law. Invoking the corporate veil, FSH pointed out that it did not own the hotel, did not employ any of its staff and had no role in its management. The limousine driver also worked for an Egyptian car hire company.
However, in opening the way for Lady Brownlie to pursue her case before an English judge, the Court noted that she had booked the tour by telephoning the hotel's concierge from England shortly before she and Sir Ian departed on holiday.
The tour had been advertised in a 12-page brochure that she had picked up in the hotel's lobby whist holidaying there the year before. The brochure was addressed to 'Dear Guest' and signed by the hotel's chief concierge.
The Court found that it was 'strongly arguable' that Lady Brownlie's agreement with the concierge was struck in England and that FSH was 'the other contracting party' to that arrangement. That and other factors, the Court ruled, were sufficient to establish English jurisdiction to hear the case.
Sir Ian's widow’s lawyers pointed out that the Four Seasons livery was on display at the hotel and argued that the Brownlies had been ‘led to believe that they were dealing with an international company of high repute’.