To anticipate this: The travel and insurance lawyers were as surprised by the Coronavirus as the authorities of the affected countries. The unanimous conclusion of all respondents is: Such a situation is completely new and there are currently no examples or recommendations for action. Legally, however, it can now be classified quite reliably.
Travel cancellation insurance
A travel cancellation insurance always takes effect if the policyholder himself is actually unable to start the journey due to an insured risk, specifically in this case a Corona Virus disease. The mere fear of being infected with the Coronavirus is not sufficient to make use of a travel cancellation insurance taken out prior to the trip.
Travel health insurance
If the traveller himself is ill with the Coronavirus, the respective health insurance or the foreign travel health insurance usually covers the resulting treatment costs.
Hotel bookings and charter contracts
For trailer drivers who have booked a berth or an apartment, the general rental law applies. This means that if the landlord can make the rented service available without restriction, there is no extraordinary reason for termination on the part of the tenant that would justify non-payment of the cancellation costs. An example: A holidaymaker has chartered a ship that can leave the port without any problems. In the place where the ship is moored, several people have contracted the Coronavirus, but the authorities have not yet imposed a curfew so that the ship can leave. In this case, the charter company can make the rented object available, so there is no reason for extraordinary termination. The situation is different if a curfew has been imposed. In this case, the ship cannot leave the port, and the charter company cannot make the rental object available for the booked purpose, namely for a holiday trip. In this case the charter company has to pay back the charter sum. The same applies to bookings of hotels or apartments.
Travel law is only ever applied when two services are combined: i.e. flight and hotel or flight and boat. Only then can travellers make use of their right to cancel the trip in accordance with the official travel warnings. If the services were booked independently of each other, the tenancy law applies (as described above).
Country specific law
Nevertheless, Ben Tanis, the Kiel-based expert for legal cases in water sports, advises to read the travel conditions or rental contracts carefully, as the respective national law may well deviate from the legal opinion prevailing in Austria or Germany. “The vast majority of contracts are concluded according to the legal interpretation of the respective country in which the service was provided. So it is advisable to take a closer look,” Ben Tanis told SeaHelp. Members who are still looking for answers in these cases are welcome to contact the Kiel-based specialist lawyer for free telephone advice.
Act of God
The legal objection of an so called act of god, which is always so popular at the regulars’ tables, only applies in the rarest of cases, as it hardly ever releases the traveller from his obligation to pay. At the most, the charter company or the lessor could make use of it by declaring: “I would like to make the ship available, but it cannot leave or even be reached because of the Coronavirus”. Travellers have at most the possibility to invoke the reasonableness of the commencement of the journey if, for example, a change in the hazardous situation at the place of travel occurs unforeseeably. In this case, however, a precise legal examination of the individual case is required in any case, which should also stand up to legal proceedings.
Ultimately, one thing is certain: whether an area is subject to a curfew, for example, will probably also depend in many cases on the economic consequences. The question of how holiday resorts around the Mediterranean will choose between considerable financial losses and the health of their foreign guests when weighing up legal interests may be answered by each individual.
Update of 26.2.2020 2 p.m.:
Numerous members have reacted to our contribution on the topic of the Coronavirus in the Adriatic. Their main concern was the question of whether there could be adverse effects in the Adriatic this spring and summer. However, SeaHelp would have to use the much-cited “glass ball” to do so, as further developments do not appear to be predictable at this time. However, we will keep members and friends of SeaHelp’s nautical breakdown service up to date here if further confirmed cases of the Coronavirus occur in the Adriatic region and result in official measures. With two bases in Italy, one base in Slovenia and eight bases in Croatia, SeaHelp’s direct regional contacts enable it to respond quickly to short-term, relevant changes in the situation and inform its members accordingly.
Updates on the situation are made via the Internet and Facebook, and at short notice via the SeaHelp newsletter. However, due to the comprehensive regulatory measures to contain the virus, we currently believe that there will be no adverse effects in the 2020 summer season.
Nevertheless, we advise all interested parties to register for the SeaHelp newsletter (if they haven’t already done so) so as not to miss any news and updates.
Update of 29.2.2020:
Meanwhile the number of confirmed Coronavirus patients in Croatia has risen to six. According to the Croatian Minister of Health Vili Beroš, 120 persons are quarantined or isolated, 1051 persons are regularly checked. With the two confirmed cases in Rijeka, the Coronavirus has now also reached the Croatian coast.